Tonight’s Dinner Special: The Class Pet, Prepared by Michael Paoli

By Lena Sharesky

The words ‘math class’ don’t normally evoke feelings of joy or excitement. Remember how it felt to learn that math not only involved numbers but letters too? Or those long nights spent memorizing formulas that seemingly had no connection to the real world, only to forget them immediately after the exam? But what if there was a way to make math understandable and fun?

Michael Paoli, a middle school math teacher at the Ella Baker School in New York, has found a way to teach math by incorporating food. Sounds delicious right? But don’t grab your plate and napkins and run to class quite yet. Let’s get to know our teacher first.

Most people assume math teachers are born with a natural mathematical ability, but this wasn’t the case for Michael Paoli.

“I wasn’t extremely talented at it but I worked hard and I was excited by the discovery through, and because of, the rigor,” Michael said.

He understands that most students don’t enjoy math and find the concepts difficult, which has influenced his teaching method.

“I always feel my classes should be more structured and formal but I really want a class to be full of rich discussion,” he said. “Sometimes skills suffer but the kids seem to like the class. I am trying to build more skill-building activities. My job is to get everyone excited about it and teach the skills involved.”

Michael will be trading his math class students for 750 curious minds at TEDxNavesink Makers on April 9 at Monmouth University. His talk, “To Eat or Not to Eat; That is The Question on Class Pets,” will tell the tale of a group of kids learning fractions, along with a life lesson.

He is a large proponent of the program and has even assigned his students to watch TED talks over the years, hoping that “the kids’ imaginations would expand as well as them being slightly entertained.”

At TEDxNavesink Michael hopes to show that a teacher’s passion truly does make a difference. He hopes it will lead to new and inventive ideas, as well as help ignite passion within others.

Michael definitely lit a passion in his students when he investing in a class pet.

“For years, I have been gathering fish tanks for our school to study different species’ behaviors and how they breed,” he said. “One day, a parent from the younger grade came up to me and asked me if I knew what aquaponics was. He said ‘check it out.’ So I ignored him for about three years. I only looked it up when I had an idea to compose a math unit surrounding food. I thought ‘What is a ridiculous idea that kids would find bizarre and hilarious?’ Of course, it would be fun to grow food inside a hallway of one of the busiest cities in the world.”

And the giant classroom fish tank was born.

Students are able to learn about math while interacting with the fish. But fish are friends, not food. This tends to be a prevailing feeling when discussing class pets. The purpose of a class pet is to teach students the responsibility involved in taking care of another living creature. But maybe we’re not making the most of our resources.

A tank of healthy, thriving fish set in a classroom filled with hungry students. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for a fresh seafood dish.

Grab your ticket for the 2016 TEDxNavesink Conference on April 9, 2016, now, before we eat the class pet.

For more information on Michael Paoli, visit his Facebook page which displays various videos and pictures of his latest ideas in the making.

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