Summerland science teacher proves his mettle

Science teacher Raja Gupta has another honour to add to his list.

Raja Gupta and his team won second place in the national Iron Science Teacher competition.

Raja Gupta and his team won second place in the national Iron Science Teacher competition.

Science teacher Raja Gupta has another honour to add to his list.

The Summerland Secondary School teacher, who is already noted for innovative teaching, recently competed in the national Iron Science Teacher competition, bringing home second place after competing with five of the best high school science teachers from across the country.

Iron Science Teacher celebrates innovation and creativity in science teaching. It’s a concept that originated at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, with a Canadian version now hosted by Jay Ingram of Daily Planet on Discovery Channel.

Gupta’s own credentials as an innovator include starting a series of seminars to help parents understand the science homework their kids are bringing home, as well as confounding, a website that provides online group classes and streaming video recorded lessons designed to enhance and expand on the curriculum the students are learning in their classes.

“With my chemistry lessons, I try to incorporate as many activities as I can with my students. And I am of the opinion that a student doesn’t need to write a lab report as much as they need to do the science … I would rather have my students blowing things up in a controlled environment,” said Gupta, stressing that he would rather have the students developing their own problem-solving skills under his guidance than just following a strict series of instructions.

Trevor Knowlton, who co-founded the LiveTeacher site, was the person who nominated Gupta for the regional competition, which took place in Vancouver in February.

“At the time, I thought it was a joke. I didn’t really think anything of it until I got home and looked at the website and thought, hey this could be something,” said Gupta. In January, he was notified that he had been selected to compete, and could bring along two assistants.

Along with physics instructor Ryan McCartney and Shona Becker, a science teacher at Summerland Middle School, Gupta and his team took first place, earning them the right to compete at the national competition in Calgary last month.

As in his classes, Gupta said they tried to keep their six-minute presentation lively, covering the history of chemistry from ancient Greece to the modern day.

“I tried to infuse as much humour into the demonstration as I could, trying to keep 500 Grade 8 students enthusiastic and on your side,” said Gupta, noting that he was competing against Calgary teachers on their home turf.

“I took a crack at the American national hockey team for winning silver, whereas the alchemists were searching for gold, as Team Canada was,” said Gupta. “The kids just howled, they loved it that the Americans were taken down a peg.”

Not only did Gupta get to know his two colleagues well, he was impressed by the people who helped him along the way, like a scientist at UBC in Vancouver, who opened up her lab to him.

“We were going to do experiments in Vancouver and blow things up. But you’re not allowed to fly on an airplane these days with chemicals,” said Gupta. The UBC chemist offered whatever they needed in the way of chemicals and equipment.

“What was interesting about that, is that as we were driving away from UBC, Ryan said to me ‘Did they check any of your credentials?’” joked Gupta. “She was very kind, in that she practiced all of the demonstrations on her own. We sent her a list and she had everything there waiting for us.”