Summerland science teacher exploring new frontiers

Not only does Summerland science teacher Raja Gupta have the district science fair competition to help oversee on Monday and Tuesday at KVR Middle School, he’s also hoping to earn some bragging rights for himself at the national finals of the Iron Science Teacher competition.

Summerland science teacher Raja Gupta beat out two competitors to win the Iron Science Teacher regional competition last month

Not only does Summerland science teacher Raja Gupta have the district science fair competition to help oversee on Monday and Tuesday at KVR Middle School, he’s also hoping to earn some bragging rights for himself at the national finals of the Iron Science Teacher competition.

In February, Gupta won the regionals of the Discovery Channel-sponsored competition. Now, as soon as the local science fair is finished he is heading to Calgary for the finals on March 9, 10 in Calgary.

“I didn’t know such a competition existed. A colleague of mine nominated me and then, after the fact, informed me,” said Gupta, explaining that the nationals will have the same format as the regionals, consisting of both a six-minute prepared lesson and another created on the spot from a supplied prop.

The first portion was straightforward. Along with two assistants — teachers Ryan McCarty from Summerland Secondary and Shona Becker from Summerland Middle School — Gupta delivered a lesson on the history of chemistry.

“I told the story, the narrative, while they did the demonstrations at the appropriate time,” said Gupta. But the second part of the competition was even more challenging.

“They gave me a dust mop, more like a handheld duster — and the topic I was given was characteristics of insects,” said Gupta, adding that he had just one minute to confer with his colleagues and get ideas.

“I turned the handheld duster into a flower and talked about the importance of insects being able to pollinate … the birds and the bees, as it were,” said Gupta. “It worked out quite well.”

Gupta’s performance was strong enough to beat out the other regional finalists, two instructors from the Lower Mainland with some previous experience.

“Both individuals that I competed against — wonderful people — had experience as demo scientists at Science World,” said Gupta. “They were blowing up stuff and showing concepts in this kind of format at Science World prior to them becoming teachers … I’ve never done that, till now.”

Gupta, who has taught science for 15 years, is being modest about his own accomplishments; along with Trevor Knowlton — the colleague who nominated Gupta — he runs, 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.

On the final study day before exams, the site had 1,500 students online, a total of more than 5,200 in the week before exams. Gupta also started another innovative program, evening science seminars to help parents understand the work their children are doing in class.

“That has brought a lot of attention to me. I had parents this semester asking me when I was gong to be holding the classes, prior to me holding the classes,” said Gupta. “The word is getting out there that such things happen. Perhaps it is turning into an expectation but it’s not a bad thing.”

Along with teaching and his other activities, Gupta oversees the district science fair, which sees up to 150 students from around the Okanagan Skaha School District displaying their science projects and competing for a chance to go on to regional and national competitions.

The science fair takes place Monday night at KVR Middle School, with the awards presentation at 7 p.m. The public will be invited to have a look at the projects from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the school.

“We’ve been very fortunate here with our history of having some very successful projects at the national level,” he said. “A lot of that goes to not only the kids but the support structures behind them — the parents as well as the teachers that are involved.”


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