Andrea Lauerman, NYA Science Teacher

Small Class Sizes: The Depth of Learning Enhanced

Andrea Lauerman is an Upper School Science Teacher at North Yarmouth Academy. Andrea has a BA in environmental studies from Dartmouth College and a MEd from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During her decade-plus of teaching, she has worked in independent schools across the northeast, teaching just about every science course imaginable, though her passion lies with encouraging students’ innate curiosity and desire to learn about how the natural world operates.


It is my belief that science education should ultimately be driven, as much as possible, by students’ genuine curiosity and desire to explore what they don’t yet understand.

The challenge of this mandate is that every student’s curiosity leads her in a slightly different direction, and there is only one of me in the classroom. As a teacher at NYA, I feel fortunate to have classes small enough that I can meaningfully engage with all students to help them to explore in directions that are significant to them.

For example, one of the units in biology includes the study of fermentation, which is a process that yeast rely on to live (and to make bread rise!). Each biology class is tasked with creating a perfect loaf of bread for “The Great Panther Bake-Off,” where their loaf is pitted against the other classes’. Small groups within the class each choose an aspect of the bread-making process that interests them and design and carry out an experiment to test how it impacts the final product.

As a teacher at NYA, I feel fortunate to have classes small enough that I can meaningfully engage with all students to help them to explore in directions that are significant to them.

Then, each class reconvenes and hashes out a recipe. Some results are inevitably tastier than others, but all the students have an opportunity to engage in genuine scientific inquiry, where they ask questions they really want the answers to, gather data, and apply their findings to a real-life situation. This is only feasible because I could provide real-time feedback to every group at each stage.

As another example, for the final project in biology, students carry out research projects on topics of their own choosing that relate to the content we have covered throughout the year. Then, they create products that meaningfully apply their new learning to their lives outside of the classroom. I am always amazed by what they come up with.

In recent years, I have had students create products as diverse as a mock cooking show about making sourdough bread, an ESPN SportsCenter segment about offshore fishing, a comic book about a kid with super-vision, a science fiction story about human genetic engineering, and a public service announcement about the health effects of smoking and vaping.

The process of having entire classes of students carry out in-depth, high-quality research on highly variable topics and then produce products that are completely different from one another is only manageable because my classes have a maximum of 16 students. This means that in a single class period, I can check in with each of them individually and provide feedback on their work.

I can also grade rough drafts at every stage of the process, and work with students outside of class to help them get “unstuck” when they need it. This project produces some of the best work that I have ever seen from high school students, precisely because they are following their own passions – something that is possible because of the small classes at NYA.