Michael Paoli

Michael Paoli


To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question on Class Pets

In 2014, our grade 7/8 math class set out to build and maintain an aquaponics system as a platform for conscious mathematics and science learning in our school. It was a self sustaining indoor vegetable farm that relied on fish wastes as fertilizer for the vegetation. We thought this was a cool simple lesson at our little school in Manhattan.

We didn’t expect it to spark a national and international dialogue. The lives of the 30 tilapia (which we raised from infancy) were at stake. The media, other schools in other states and countries descended on us via snail mail, e-mail and Skype! The Wall Street Journal carefully covered the details of the indoor farming system and the struggle the kids were having with the idea to kill and EAT (!) the fish…all this while learning how to find common denominators of fractions.


Ten years ago, Michael Paoli, a Canadian, was smuggled into New York City to teach mathematics to kids. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto where he holds a double major in mathematics and theatre (the ending -re is applicable), the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) and a master’s of Mathematics Education at Hunter College.

In his 20s, he kept afloat by playing drums in reggae and Hasidic wedding bands. Michael currently teaches at the Ella Baker School in Manhattan and is a master teacher at Math for America. Michael is also part of a mathematics inquiry team led by Professor Betina Zolkower of Brooklyn College to “Engage Students in Framing and Solving Non-Routine Problems.”*

In 2014, Michael received a grant from Fund for Teachers to explore urban farming and aquaponics across Europe which sparked the entire project. He dragged his wife along with him and she responded with support and positivity…(whew). The Captain Planet Foundation donated all the funding for the aquaponics system and it couldn’t have been done without them! Thanks Cap’n. Also, a big thanks to Jonathan Kadish who volunteered many hours by helping design, build and troubleshoot the structure.

He and his wife, Andrea Syrtash, live in Brooklyn, New York and she is speaking at TEDx as well. Her specialties are relationships and after meeting her, people often comment, with awe and disbelief, that Michael is ‘so lucky’…as if he had been the recipient of some great charity giveaway.

*Principal Investigator: Betina Zolkower (Brooklyn College). Participants: Michael Paoli (Ella Baker School), Kit Golan (Wagner Middle School), and Dorota Caetano (Vanguard High School). Time Frame: January to June, 2016