Wexler Brodie ’24 interviewed High School Science Department Chair Alec Ogilvie, who teaches IB Chemistry Higher Level and Standard Level and has seen the Science Program grow tremendously since he started at TASIS in 2008.
Could you please describe your educational background and briefly summarize your professional experiences prior to your arrival at TASIS?
I did A Levels, and in those days you had to do three, so I chose biology, chemistry, and physics. Then I did a degree in Chemistry with some Biochemistry and followed that with a Postgraduate in Education. I worked in marketing for a pharmaceutical company before teaching English in Japan, which is what actually got me interested in teaching in the first place. I then taught in England, France, and Italy before joining TASIS.
Would you say that your experience working at a pharmaceutical company sparked your love for science? I already had a love for science from my university days. To be honest, the marketing side didn't spark my interest as much as researching or teaching science did.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
I think the key is to make it fun and interesting and try to relate it to the world around us by including little details about the people involved, even stories behind what happened. I try to give a hands-on approach, so I like doing investigative, practical work when possible. I like students to think and try to solve problems by making connections between topics and applying their understanding. I think students do best when they enjoy the subject and they have a genuine curiosity. I push them, but with guidance. Science is not about regurgitating facts. It's about applying an understanding to new situations. And importantly, I tell bad jokes when possible.
Can you discuss how the TASIS Science program has grown over the course of your time here?
It has grown enormously. I remember teaching in the labs that used to be at the back of De Nobili, where the Health Center is now. That's where I taught chemistry, which is hard to believe now. The physics and biology labs were back there as well. So there's been quite a significant change there.
The biggest catalyst, of course, was when the Campo Science Center was built in 2014. Now we have a lot more space to do experiments, much more storage for chemicals and other things, and way more up-to-date equipment—things like probes and data-logging equipment that can link with computers and other devices. That allowed us to do a lot more practical work and for the whole program to take off. The IB Program grew a lot, and there was a lot more student interest in doing higher-level sciences. Science became a bigger thing at TASIS than it was before.
Why do you think STEM education is so important in today's world?
Well, science, technology, engineering, and maths are all linked together. In order to solve a problem, you're not really looking at the different disciplines, you're actually looking at the one problem that you need to solve. Everybody's got to work together as a team to do that, and that's what actually happens in real life.
Just think about the Covid vaccine and how that's been suddenly done. You needed a computing team, you needed a team of chemists, you needed biochemists, you needed engineers—you needed everybody working together to try to get this new type of vaccine out as quickly as possible.
What do you like most about teaching at TASIS?
It's an international student body, which I like. The students generally have a drive to do well and a willingness to do things even outside of school hours. For instance, last Saturday I had the IB 2 students doing their IA’s all day. They were quite willing to do that and even seemed to enjoy it. So that's a big thing and yes, they even laugh at my jokes.
How has the pandemic affected your teaching style, and what have you done to adapt?
It certainly made me go more digital and use more tools like Google Classroom. I think that's probably true of everyone. I used to use a blog site, but now I almost exclusively use Google Classroom. I think I upload a lot more information for students than I used to. I also don't carry loads of papers around so much because I can have the students upload it instead.
I think in many ways the pandemic has allowed us to accelerate digitally and to think about different ways to present material. So you could say that there are many good aspects that have come out of it. We’ve learned to use technology in ways that enhance the live classroom experience.
You said that you really enjoy having hands-on learning and doing many labs in your classes. Were you able to complete any labs and hands-on learning while teaching online?
Well, we had to adapt a bit. I looked up a lot of virtual labs, and I managed to write to universities to get access to some of their sites (Labster, for example). We were able to virtually go inside a lab and do some rather nice biochemistry labs and all sorts of things. So I explored that area, which I hadn't done before, and some of them are quite good. Obviously, it's not the same as doing it hands-on—actually mixing chemicals and doing the experiments themselves—but we were able to get some data with virtual labs, which was a lot better than doing no labs at all.
Are there any non-scientific subjects that you would like to teach if you ever got the chance?
Good question. I’m interested in many completely different things. I love windsurfing, snowboarding, photography, and hiking. Those are completely outside of my field, but I would be happy to get involved with them in some capacity. Otherwise, I think science is my thing.