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The secret to teaching? ‘Let go of the jargon and find a way to hook kids with the story’

Andover HIgh School science teacher Lindsey L'Ecuyer
Andover HIgh School science teacher Lindsey L'Ecuyer

As a biology teacher, Lindsey L’Ecuyer said some of her greatest satisfaction comes with helping her Andover High School students figure out how to become independent learners.

“I think it’s so important to give them that confidence and that ownership,” she said, “so that they can be open-minded to all the things going on in science and biology right now and find where they fit into the story.”

Her efforts to make science accessible and exciting to students recently helped earn the 14-year educator prominent recognition in her profession.

The National Association of Biology Teachers chose L’Ecuyer as the 2021 recipient of its Ron Mardigian Biotechnology Award, which annually recognizes a teacher who “demonstrates outstanding and creative teaching of biotechnology in the classroom.”

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At Andover High School, where she has worked since 2014, L’Ecuyer teaches biotechnology and forensics, in addition to biology. She is also the adviser to the school’s BioBuilder synthetic biology club, whose student participants learn how to design living cells to address modern biotechnology challenges.

“It’s really exciting,” said the Haverhill resident, who will be presented with her award at a November conference the association is holding in Atlanta. “There are a lot of teachers doing really cool things in the classroom.”

At Andover High, L’Ecuyer has also overhauled the school’s biotechnology curriculum, written its forensics curriculum, and developed new lab activities. In 2018, Mass BioED, a state organization of biotechnology teachers, chose her to receive its Champion for Biotechnology Award.

“One of the things that drives Lindsey’s success as a teacher is that she herself has a real deep interest and curiosity about biology and especially biotechnology,” said Stephen Sanborn, K-12 science program coordinator for the Andover schools. “Biotechnology is a constantly changing field but she is able to stay on top of it. And she passes on her understanding and her enthusiasm to her students.”

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“The longer I teach, the more I realize that it’s about building relationships with the kids more than anything you do in the classroom,” L’Ecuyer said. “I really do love biology and I’m obsessed with DNA, and I think when you have a passion for what you teach the kids pick up on that and feed on that.”

She tries to bring that same spirit of engaging students to designing curriculum.

“I think teaching the life sciences has to be a labor of love,” she said. “You have to understand how kids learn and write curriculum with that in mind. Let go of the jargon and find a way to hook kids with the story first and then sneak some content in there.”

Andover High School is an ideal place for her work, L’Ecuyer said. “We have some truly transformational leaders,’' she said, “who empower faculty to teach to their strengths.”

L’Ecuyer was nominated for the recent award by Cara Bak, a Chelmsford High School science teacher with whom she previously collaborated in a professional development program for biotechnology teachers at Harvard University.

A native of Salem, N.H., L’Ecuyer received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stonehill College in 2006, and a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from Salem State University in 2011. From 2008 until she came to Andover, she taught science at Marblehead High School.

Before and for a while after becoming a teacher, L’Ecuyer worked at Massachusetts General Hospital as a research technician, an experience she said has been invaluable to her as a teacher.

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Recently L’Ecuyer began a doctorate in education program at University of Massachusetts Lowell in which she intends to focus on how to better engage diverse populations in studying biotechnology.

Meanwhile she plans to continue seeking new ways to inspire her students to pursue their academic and career goals.

“I hope that I can inspire them to be themselves, to see themselves as lifelong learners,” L’Ecuyer said. “I hope they enjoy my classes even if they are not going into science, that it helps them find their passion.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.