Students fish for knowledge at Parley’s Park Elementary School
A corner of John Howard’s fourth-grade classroom at Parley’s Park Elementary is bustling with life.
A few months ago, a large fish tank full of rainbow trout eggs was installed in there. Now, the eggs have hatched, and dozens of small fish zip around the tank throughout the day. It’s all part of the Trout in the Classroom program put on by the Utah chapter of Trout Unlimited. The program is designed to help students learn about the ecosystem, life cycle and water conservation, among other topics.
"I thought it was a good way to connect the students to what we’re learning," Howard said. "Anytime you can get stuff that’s more hands-on, right here in the classroom where you can actually observe and watch the change going on, it’s obviously more powerful than me standing up in the front, lecturing on something."
Howard said the students gather around the tank each morning, eager to check on the fish. Student Max Rabin said having the fish in class has been a cool experience.
"It’s been real fun," he said, as his classmates gathered around him to watch him feed the trout. "They’ve been growing real fast. I like to watch them grow."
The students have even given the fish names, though Howard said there’s no way to tell them apart.
"They probably each have about 100 names," said one girl in the crowd watching Rabin feed the small trout, which were about an inch in length.
One of the primary lessons Howard is teaching with the trout is the importance of clean water — particularly since that’s one of Utah’s most precious resources.
"Trout need a certain quality of water, obviously, to survive," Howard said. "We live in the second driest state in the country, so we talk about the fact that water conservation is really important and how important it is to take care of the watershed. Water is a limited resource here and the students are starting to understand that."
In the coming months, students will be testing the pH and nitrate levels of the water.
"We can even compare it to stream water locally and see if it’s somewhat similar," Howard said.
Another important lesson the students are learning is the life cycle. They’ve watched the eggs hatch and seen those hatchlings grow to resemble fish. Along the way, many of the eggs and hatchlings didn’t make it.
"We can talk about it in class, but for them to see the birth and development and that whole process is pretty cool," Howard said. "It has a bigger impact on them than just saying, ‘Well, here’s what happens.’ They can actually see it over the course of four months.
"We had probably 200 eggs probably. When you watch them hatch, you get some that are deformed and some that are just fine. We talk about why trout have so many eggs because a lot of them will die in the process. It’s all the life cycle."
Rabin was surprised at how quickly the transformation has taken effect.
"I didn’t think they’d hatch so fast," he said. "It happened in four or five days and now they already look like fish."
Even Howard has been learning throughout the process. An outdoorsman, he’s enjoyed discovering how much to feed the fish to ensure they thrive, and he’s been surprised at how well the fish have adapted to their environment.
"There are more fish in there than I thought there was going to be," Howard said, adding that he estimates there are more than 100. "I didn’t think this many would make it."
In May, when the trout grow larger, the students will release them into the Deer Valley ponds. That will be yet another learning opportunity for them to see how well the fish can thrive in their new home.
"That’ll be a test to see how these fish can survive," Howard said. "You’re moving them from a pretty contained environment to open water, where who knows what’s in there?"
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