Get to know...Laura Poidomani, a sixth-grade science teacher
NEW CANAAN — Though Laura’s Poidomani’s sixth-grade science classroom at Saxe Middle School may seem quiet after all the students leave for the day — chairs left flipped on classroom tables — the room is secretly vibrating with life.
Behind Poidiomani’s desk is a plastic bin full of dark dirt, pulsing with hundreds of worms she has been keeping since she was in college 20 years ago.
Next to her desk is an empty tank, soon to be filled with baby trout for the Trout Club Poidomani runs after school.
In the spring, the room will come alive with the model aquariums and terrariums the students will build.
The only part of Poidomani’s classroom that doesn’t see much life is a shelf of science textbooks, being used to hold down some shelves in one corner of her room.
“I don’t do much with textbooks,” Poidomani said. “The way of the world today isn’t out of a textbook. It’s about being in the world and experiencing the world. It’s about giving the kids perseverance to find out. I think students are engaged in their strengths and weaknesses when engaged in experiential learning.”
It’s this approach to teaching that made Poidomani one of 12 teachers to win a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Poidomani applied at the encouragement of Saxe Middle School Principal Greg Macedo and received the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month. She’ll receive $2,500 to further her professional development as an environmental educator, as well as an additional $2,500 to fund environmental education activities and programs in her classroom — something Poidomani hopes to see go toward sensors for the tank to allow for more in-depth research for the Trout Club.
When Poidomani came to New Canaan to teach 19 years ago, she said science wasn’t much of a priority for the district. But over the nearly two decades, she’s worked as an instructional leader-teacher and presented to the Board of Education, encouraging the district to place more emphasis on science. In addition to helping with that and Trout Club, Poidomani helped create the Student Watershed Awareness Task Force, where around 360 sixth-grade students study local watersheds and use their knowledge to educate the community about where their water is going.
The cleanliness of local water sources has long been a presence in Poidomani’s life. Her father was “a seaweed scientist” who was responsible for the remediation of Long Island Sound.
“I was taken around the world by his research,” she said. “I saw you could teach everything through science.”
Poidomani went on to pursue her own environment-focused career, receiving graduate and undergraduate degrees in elementary education with a focus in general science from the University of Connecticut.
In addition to teaching students through hands-on experiences, like having them build their own aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, Poidomani employs digital learning like Google Classroom, BrainPOP educational videos, news articles and virtual workshops that allow them to experiment before they work with living organisms. Poidomani said using online materials keeps everything current.
“With technology, the opportunities are endless,” she said. “If we can’t bring the materials in, they’re recreated with online simulation. It keeps kids excited about learning science.”
Through this, she hopes to teach her students to make choices supported by evidence and empower them to make good choices, especially when it comes to the environment.
“The hard part for me is the ‘so what?’ factor,” she said. “The kids that come to me are not all scientists, but are all consumers of the environment. They need to understand the world around them.”