‘The Class’ Review: Science-Fair Confidential
A year spent with a group of driven, talented students at a Connecticut high school—and the “life-changing” teacher who believed in them.
By John Donvan
Wall Street Journal
December 16, 2018

Certain areas of science may be enduring new onslaughts of disrespect lately, but at least one scientific institution—the high-school science fair—is acquiring a certain degree of cool. September, for example, saw the release of “Science Fair,” an acclaimed documentary film that follows a nail-biting competition for a $75,000 Intel-sponsored prize. The students in the documentary, who are as combative as they are creative, obliterate (mostly) the stereotype of socially awkward science-fair eggheads.

Furthering this narrative is Heather Won Tesoriero’s “The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America,” the first full-length book on the science-fair universe. For an entire school year, Ms. Tesoriero followed a single group of students from a public high school in the affluent town of Greenwich, Conn. A half dozen of these students get most of the spotlight, but we meet many other important characters along the way.


“The Class” reveals that, for all the hype of the science fair, these bright high schoolers aren’t creating world-changing breakthroughs. Olivia’s Ebola test, for whatever reason, isn’t the standard used in Africa today. Nor is pure research part of a winning strategy. Instead, prizes tend to go to projects that dazzle by “solving” newsmaking problems—with solutions often based on existing devices or discoveries, cobbled together in some ingenious way.

But science always builds on what’s already known, and ingenuity is a talent to be recognized and nurtured. In that, the students in “The Class” are lucky to have Andy Bramante in their corner. A former industrial chemist, Mr. Bramante quit the private sector to run the science-research classroom at Greenwich High. He works hard, cares about the kids and actually listens to them. He’s the “life-changing teacher” of the book’s subtitle.