Above: If there was a ‘main’ pet in the classroom, this is it, says Cole science teacher Richard Morandi. “Lizzo is a bearded dragon that I got for free from the ‘pets in the classroom’ grant. He’s named after the singer … [and] growing very fast and I’m looking for a larger enclosure for him now.” Submitted photo
By Alessandra Ottiano
Cole Middle School has a new seventh grade science teacher this year who strongly believes in providing students with authentic experiences – and that means transforming the classroom to include an assortment of unusual animals! As Richard Morandi focuses on developing a generation of future scientists, students in his class are encouraged to stay excited about science and the world around them through encounters with a variety of animals.
“Nothing is worse than walking into a classroom and knowing that it’s going to be boring,” he said. “I strive to make sure that my students want to come to class. They don’t want to miss a day because we might do something really cool that they want to be a part of.”
As a life science teacher, Morandi said he finds it hard to teach in a room with only humans. The introduction of animals into the classroom exposes students to more of the world than they would typically experience within the four walls of a classroom. In a letter sent home to parents, Morandi wrote, “It is a powerful connection to have students develop and maintain specific environmental systems for a wide array of animals.” These connections also allow students to practice soft skills such as empathy and compassion that translate into real-world change.
Learning to form these connections teaches students the importance of our natural environment, said Morandi.
“If you don’t care about a bug because you find it disgusting, you are much more likely to not care when the swamp near your home gets bulldozed to put in a parking lot,” he said. Today one of the leading causes of extinction is habitat loss. For Morandi, teaching the next generation to recognize the importance of species diversity in our ecosystems motivates them to prevent and work against environmental issues, such as climate change, that are affecting the world today. The climate change crisis is what motivated Morandi to become a science teacher, so teaching students how to appreciate the environment and work to protect it is a priority in his class.
Currently, the seventh grade is learning about patterns of inheritance. The unit is heavily focused on spiders, so having a real tarantula in class is a huge advantage in fostering curiosity. “As soon as students knew I was getting a tarantula, they would rush to class every day to see if it had arrived. Many students have made donations to facilitate the growth we’ve made this year,” says Morandi. Bonds like this, which make science fun, are what Morandi hopes students will remember most about his class.
Mr. Morandi has been overwhelmed by the EG community’s support for education.
“Teaching in East Greenwich has been an amazing experience for me. The staff is helpful and welcoming. I have been blown away by the generosity and appreciation from my students and their parents,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what more I can do in the future!”
Alessandra Ottiano is a senior at EGHS and plans on attending University of South Carolina, Columbia.