How to Turn Teenagers Into World-Class Scientists
Andy Bramante coaches his students through projects most professionals would never dream of. Here’s his secret.
Just like any other school, the entrance hall in Greenwich High is draped with banners and studded with trophies celebrating its students’ triumphs. Only here, the biggest wins come not from athletic competitions, but from the statewide and national science fairs that Greenwich High has come to dominate — the Google Science Fair, the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and more.
How they’ve done it is now the subject of The Class, a book out this month by journalist Heather Won Tesoriero. Although the students are uniquely impressive, the star of the story is their teacher, Andy Bramante, who runs the independent study–style research class behind all these wins. The son of a single mother in the Bronx, Bramante pumped gas, worked in a tow yard, got a free ride to Fordham, and ended up in a succession of well-paying chemistry industry jobs — but he gave it all up to teach. (“Are you fucking crazy?” one of his co-workers asked him when he shared his decision.)
Bramante’s 50-some students — selected after a competitive application process — work on projects that reflect real-world problems. Bramante uses his connections to equip his lab space with equipment few high schools could dream of buying, like the $250,000 electron microscope one former colleague snagged for him. But it’s not only about gear. It’s also about daring high school students to step away from the usual confines of standardized tests and AP classes, use their imaginations, and spend a year or more on groundbreaking projects.
Medium spoke with Bramante about how he turns promising kids into science superstars.
Medium: How do you ignite your students’ imaginations to come up with the ideas they do for these science fairs?
Andy Bramante: I really try to get the focus on things that interest them. The struggle comes partly because of the success of the kids who came before them — they want that magic…