By Morgan Walsh
Many opportunities have been being taken away from students in this school year, but Nicholas Rath, head of the East Greenwich High School’s science department, has taken advantage of teaching students in an online classroom. With classes now taking place on Google Meet, many of the activities his classes would have in a normal year, such as field trips and labs, have been canceled. However, having guest speakers talk with the class has only become more accessible this year. With a simple link to the class call, they can talk with students from their work or home.
Rath explained, “I was concerned that this year we would be in this sorta vacuum, where we wouldn’t have a free movement of people coming and going in terms of guest speakers into the building. So I thought about what we can do to change things up and make sure the kids are feeling connected with the outside of the classroom or their homes”.
In the fall, emergency physician and researcher, Dr. Megan Ranney, and pediatrician, Dr. Howard Silversmith, joined Rath’s “Current Issues in Science” class to discuss the virus with students. Afterward, he replicated this with other speakers, inviting people such as Kevin Ginestet, a cybersecurity executive, and James Le Blanc, a materials scientist at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, as well as Nicole Lengyle Costa, Rhode Island DEM fisheries biologist, who visited the AP Environmental class.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” shared Kian Bijari, a junior currently taking AP Environmental, “In particular I would love to see a chemist or aeronautical engineer. I like the opportunity to speak with people in fields that I’m interested in and can’t wait for more speakers”.
The guest speakers play a large role in another new addition to the science department, Rath’s “Current Issues in Science” class. It is set up so the students suggest events and topics they are interested in, thus they end up covering a broad range of material, with a curriculum that will change even between this semester and the next.
“The class was created literally the day before school started as a last-minute way to try to tackle the scheduling issues we have,” said Rath, “I end up covering 2 or 3 big topics, so obviously the vaccine and climate change, but then I ask the students what they see as current issues in science. From that list generated by students, I tap into the guest speaker list.”
Grace Patti, a senior who is in CIS(Current Issues in Science), said, “I have enjoyed the varieties of guest speakers that Mr. Rath has given the class opportunities to connect and discuss with because each class is focused on a different and unique topic. We talked about endangered species, aspects of how sleep works, and how technology influences our lives. I think this class structure is exciting during a challenging year of learning and has certainly been a little bit of light added to my day.”
Grace Birkett, a sophomore also in CIS agreed, “I always look forward to the class when we have a guest speaker because it gives me a break from the day to listen to something I really care about. I get very intrigued when they speak, especially the sleep speaker, because of their eye-opening information they share. I think that it is very beneficial to have guest speakers because it focuses our minds on something else other than covid and the horrible time we’re going through right now.”
With guest speakers proving to be a powerful tool to teach students and help them explore carrier paths, Rath wants to expand this opportunity beyond his own classes. Although it is currently in the works, Rath hopes on creating a STEM career week in March where students learn more about jobs in scientific fields and ask the speakers their own questions. This will hopefully provide students with something to look forward to this year and find new passions or possibilities for their future careers.
If any members of the community are interested in guest speaking for the class they can fill out this google form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeRqKzKSAsFY32FpsGJwCMa5YV9OOGsa8IUGIF-SW8lvNSDPw/viewform?gxids=7628