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NY Press: Mahopac teacher creates zoo to teach biology

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Sep 22 13:26:35 2003  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

JOURNAL NEWS (White plains, New York) 18 September 03 Mahopac teacher creates zoo to teach biology (David Novich)
Mahopac: Moments after Larry Weisberg placed a cage of hairless guinea pigs on the lab counter yesterday, a crowd of 10th-graders had gathered around, commenting on how ugly and weird they looked.
The pink pigs ó which looked like little hippopotamuses with mustaches ó came from a research lab and provided the perfect opportunity for Weisberg to teach about genetic mutations and the history of the classroom rodents.
The students learned about the pigs' nervous nature and voracious appetites, and came to the front to hold them. The two are part of Weisberg's exotic animal collection ó called the Mahopac Zoo ó that he uses every day to bring his class to life.
Sophomore Kevin Gluckowski said he enjoys Weisberg's daily show-and-tell after touching the pigs' sticky skin.
"You have no clue what (the animals) are and then you imagine them living around here and seeing them every day," said Gluckowski, 15. "This makes it more interesting. It's not like having a period of notes."
Weisberg began buying animals in the zoo when he came to the district three years ago. After teaching chemistry for a dozen years in Wappingers Falls, he wanted a change and thought animals would help motivate students to learn about biology.
He started shopping at a pet store in Poughkeepsie, where he bought a range of reptiles, mammals and arachnids. The collection developed into a menagerie of more than 70 creatures, many of which are kept in fish tanks in what had been a school bathroom.
A basilisk lizard from Costa Rica, a blue tegu from Colombia and a Madagascar tomato frog are just a few of the exotic species.
Several times a week, Weisberg comes into the zoo to feed the animals and clean their cages.
"It's very tranquil," he said. "I develop a kind of rapport with them."
Aside from some albino hedgehogs, most of the mammals are loaned to students who care for them at home and earn community-service hours required for graduation.
Tenth-grader Chris Brady is planning to take home a bearded dragon on Friday that he will have to feed crickets. He doesn't expect it to be too hard because he had an iguana until it died about three months ago.
"They're cool-looking," said Brady. "They kind of look like dinosaurs."
The animals are not just designed to make learning fun. They are also a way to teach responsibility. Special education students will be caring for some of the animals in school this year, to help prepare for jobs after they leave.
At the same time, Weisberg is developing a zoology course that he hopes to start next year, as an option for students who can't handle chemistry or physics. Some students take earth science and biology Regents exams, but struggle to pass their third science test required for graduation.
Students would study animal structure and behavior, while performing their own research.
For now, though, Weisberg's biology students are the ones who benefit most from the collection. They look forward to seeing the members of his menagerie because they provide a little break from a stressful day and pique their curiosity. And yesterday, after asking tons of questions, some of them even developed a little sympathy for the hairless guinea pig.
"It was so ugly that it made it cute," said Kalyn Hintze, 15.
Mahopac teacher creates zoo to teach biology


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