OAKHURST – Inside a watery incubator tiny baby trout barely an inch long flit from pebble to rock, some with their egg sacs still attached.
These future river-dwellers are part of the Salmonids in the Classroom project taking place now at Oak Creek Intermediate (OCI).
FYI, that’s pronounced “sal-MON-ids.”
At OCI, innovative teachers and volunteers have teamed up to create a district-wide stream ecology curriculum that provides living biology in the classroom, and includes multiple science field trips that span the middle school years.
Salmonids in the Classroom is a project-based program offered through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Students are presented with the opportunity to raise trout or salmon from eggs to small fish in their classrooms, and then release the fish into a local river.
Teachers, volunteers and students cooperatively learn about the life cycle of the fish, and their habit needs. The program goals are for students to become stewards of local watersheds, understand the need to conserve habitats, and make informed decisions in the future.
To get the project started, OCI science teacher Tim McGrew was required to attend certifiable “trout parent training,” and received a special permit to in order to possess the protected-species trout eggs.
Starting as a little kid, McGrew has enjoyed the outdoors, its streams and fish, and is understandably enthusiastic about the Salmonid program.
“This is a great project for kids that ties into the 7th grade curriculum in several ways,” explains McGrew. “We cover ecosystems and habitats, and cellular development.” His colleague at OCI is 7th grade teacher Laurel Duckworth, who is responsible for the math that kids are using to further their understanding of ecosystems in science.
“The students are building scale models of various watershed systems, using a lot of math. If Laurel hadn’t been working on scale with the kids, it would not have worked,” McGrew continues.
To facilitate the watershed research, students have divided into groups of four, using Chromebooks to go online with Google Maps and Google Earth. They will eventually write about their projects, bringing language arts into the lessons, as well.
McGrew says the Salmonid project and watershed studies fit well with the new Common Core classroom standards style of teaching.
“It’s student-directed, and they have been very engaged. Active engagement is what we’re looking for. Right now, they’re collaborating, making careful observations and problem-solving. They love it, and they’re doing an awesome job.“
Project Salmonid was suggested to McGrew as a good adjunct to curriculum by OCI parent Peter Lineau, who is on the board of the Bass Lake Education Foundation (BLEF).
“We want our students to do more than learn science,” says BLEF board member Lineau, “we want our students to experience science, to appreciate and understand our area in a deeper and more personal way than just through a textbook or web page.”
On January 28, the 7th grade students at OCI took a field trip to the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery in Friant. “The trip was more than a visit to the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery, it was a parenting class for the students so they could learn to raise their own trout babies in their own classroom-sized mini hatchery,” Lineau said. “This makes the program a perfect fit for the 7th grade science curriculum and a great follow-up to their 6th grade Outdoor School studies.”
Lineau is referring to last spring, when BLEF organized and helped fund a district-wide field trip to Green Meadows Outdoor School, where students first studied stream ecology. Now some of those 7th graders – the ones in McGrew and Duckworth’s classes – will return later this month to Green Meadows to release their young trout into Big Creek.
“The students have passed the first test, as their first trout-babies have hatched! As all parents know, the real test is in successfully raising our babies until they can be on their own. We’ll see how well the OCI 7th grader’s have learned the lessons of our rivers and streams.”
While this year’s 7th graders deepen their understanding of local and regional ecology, BLEF is working to find resources for the next generation of 6th graders to make the outdoor school journey.
“It costs $165 per student to provide this unique experience, and while many of the school families contribute some or all of the cost, BLEF needs sponsorships for the balance,” explains Lineau. “Last year, 20 sponsorships were received from the community, service clubs, and businesses. This allowed for every eligible student in the district to participate and a number of sponsorships are needed this year.”
The Green Meadows trip takes place March 24-28 and the cost of $165 covers four days and nights of science education. Scholarships are still needed.
“Here’s the beauty of it,” notes BLEF founder Kriszti Mendonca of the fish hatchery project dovetailing with the outdoor field science trip, “it fits into the 7th grade science and the kids go and release the baby trout at Green Meadows where they had their field trip the year before. We love how it all comes full circle.”
Sponsorship donations for the Green Meadows Outdoor School field trip can be made online through the Bass Lake Education Foundation.
(Photos courtesy of Bass Lake Education Foundation)