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May 05, 2011

Teacher Feature: Trout in the Classroom

Kids250 Would you like to be part of an educational program that develops passionate, active and empowered students, who learn not only solid educational but also environmental and even compassionate lessons?

Then consider exploring “Trout in the Classroom”—a program sponsored by Trout Unlimited that enables students to raise rainbow trout from eggs to 4-inch fingerlings and then release them into Lake Michigan. Eventually these tiny fish find their way into local waterways, spawn and complete the cycle. Trout in the Classroom is also a chance for you and your students to grow and directly connect to your curriculum. With guidance and phenomenal support from Trout Unlimited volunteers over the five-month cycle, the trout grow. Students have the opportunity to learn about aquatic ecology through daily water testing, feeding and observation.

This was my second year leading a Trout in the Classroom project at Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka. As the resource center director, I was able to involve every grade in my K-4 school. Kindergartners helped feed the trout. First-graders carefully used a balance scale to weigh the constantly increasing amount of food. Second- and third-graders recorded growth through journal entries. Fourth-graders, our oldest students, did daily water tests, noting changes in nitrite, nitrate, pH and ammonia levels and recording these in a log.

A core group of students, “The Trout Team,” organized into five committees (publicity, science and learning, release day planning, fundraising, and service). They got articles into our local paper, created an “open house” to educate guests about the program, developed science experiments that tested the use of the “fish poo” wastewater against several other fertilizer and control water solutions on plants in our school and even completed hydroponic experiments in first- through fourth-grade classrooms. Students will be selling a new product, “Fish Poo,” which our research showed was the best growing medium, at our annual May Festival! In addition, the service and fundraising teams created a Got Trout? T-shirt with the work of a local artist and will be selling them as well to support our program next year.

All Hubbard Woods students made frequent observations and sketches during their weekly resource center time. We created a webpage in which the students wrote articles explaining the program and chronicled the progress. Along the way, we invited local experts to expand our perspective: an entomologist, a watercolor artist who specializes in fishes, male and female fly-casting instructors and an ichthyologist. During the last two months, our website has had hundreds of visitors from 13 countries on five continents. A live webcam offers them a chance to look in on the trout throughout the entire growth process.

Of course, the apex of the project was our recent release of the fingerlings into Lake Michigan. More than 125 students, parents and community members, including Congressman Robert Dold, attended the “graduation” of 139 rainbow trout with an average size of 3½ inches.

The Trout Team’s work continues. They will make a presentation at a Winnetka Town Hall meeting to explain their project and what they’ve learned. And five of the young trout have been kept to be raised in the tank over the summer until they’re big enough to be tagged with radio transmitters. We’ll release these trout just before we receive our eggs next year. We hope to track our trout on their journey around the Great Lakes.

Trout in the Classroom is completely funded by Trout Unlimited. Each chapter chooses a school–Hubbard Woods is supported by the Gary Borger Chapter.  Their volunteers work side by side with our teachers to spread the mission of restoring and protecting cold-water habitat for trout species.

Check out our website, http://web.winnetka36.org/toddburleson/trout2011/Welcome.html. You can learn about the entire program and even connect directly with Trout Unlimited’s educational website. And feel free to contact me with questions. I am happy to help get a program started in your school. I know my students would welcome the chance to have some “fin pals” with your students!

Post by Todd Burleson from Hubbard Woods Elementary School

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