The Chemistry Between Science and Critical Thinking

Dr. Janet Berthel spent many years in higher education, but when you hear about her experience transitioning from college lecture halls and laboratories to high school classrooms, something surprising becomes clear; Dr. Berthel believes that her MBS students are just as capable and just as curious as her collegiate students were. And she expects them to perform accordingly without exception. This may sound intimidating, but it is the crux of what makes her a great teacher.

Sometimes Dr. Berthel’s students find themselves doing the standard work of high school Chemistry students, but those moments are few and far between. Her commitment to engaging in experimental design, her belief that students should be responsible for developing their own questions about scientific studies, her great love of science “since toddlerhood,” and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Dartmouth College all make Dr. Berthel a key figure in the MBS teaching community. Students know that they’re in for hard work when they take her classes, but they also feel confident that their teacher will always listen to them and, in fact, that she expects to hear from them as well.

For example, in her Advanced Seminar on medicine, Dr. Berthel gave her students the go-ahead to critique the established work of doctors, scientists, and researchers. She wanted her class to examine medical studies to evaluate their quality, so she gave her students access to raw data sets and then the reports that resulted from them. Never satisfied with just one lens for her coursework, Dr. Berthel also asked them to grapple with ethical concepts related to this work.

And how did it all of that go for a bunch of high school kids? Dr. Berthel was truly impressed, as usual, but she also felt that her students walked away with something even bigger than the desired outcomes of the assignment.

“If you asked that class about it, I think they would tell you ‘I’m critical of everything now. I don’t take anything at face value. I’ll decide for myself; thank you very much.’”

Dr. Berthel’s students come out of her classes ready for just about anything a college course – or the world – could throw at them.


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