Science lessons on a whole new scale
The fish on display in the entryway at Rosemount Elementary School aren't the kind you'd usually see in an aquarium. That's kind of the point.
The tank, one of three added to District 196 Elementary School last fall, is stocked with bass, bluegill, bullhead and crayfish. They're the kind of fish common to Minnesota waters, but usually invisible to students unless they hit the lakes with a rod and a reel. The fish are part of a new curriculum called One Fish, Two Fish, Minnesotans Do Fish that is meant to teach science to third graders in the district's Young Scholars program. And while the fish lack the bright colors of typical aquarium dwellers, teachers hope there are other things that will help make them appealing to students.
"Kids like fish, so it's a nice inspiration for the science connection," said Ron Boyd, Rosemount Elementary's gifted-and-talented program teacher. "Having it be Minnesota native fish, they don't usually get to see them like this."
The idea for the fish tanks, which are also installed at Cedar Park and Glacier Hills elementary schools, actually started with bees. District 196 ran a summer program last year with the Bell Museum of Natural History. When it was over, the museum expressed an interest in doing more work with the district, and one of the residencies they offered used Minnesota-native fish to teach science lessons.
Pam McDonald, a teacher on special assignment at the district office to oversee the districtwide gifted-and-talented program, liked the idea. She just didn't like the $5,000 price tag. She figured the district could do its own program much cheaper. So, with the Bell Museum's blessing they bought and stocked the tanks and a district teacher wrote the curriculum.
The district also brought in students from the Advancement Via Independent Determination programs at Apple Valley and Eastview high schools to help teach the lessons.
"We felt it would be more powerful for students to get lessons from AVID students," McDonald said.
Those lessons started last week. Students from Diamond Path, Shannon Park, Pinewood and Red Pine Elementary Schools took a trip to RES. They spent part of their time on an art lesson, drawing a fish and its habitat, and part on science lessons. Students started out trying to identify fish. They will also measure the fish in the tank and record information about the length of the fish, the temperature of the tank and other details.
"They're going to be looking at, does the way they look help them to survive?'" Boyd said. "They're going to look at things like, what kind of things do they do in the ecosystem? Are they cleaners like the bullhead, or are they hunters? They're looking at things like, what things in the tank are natural, what are man made?"
The One Fish, Two Fish project has some added benefits for host schools like RES. Since the tank arrived last fall Boyd has been sending information to teachers in all grades about how they can use the fish in their own lessons. Boyd also posts questions next to the tank once or twice a week that everyone can answer if they want to stop and pay attention.
"I'm doing stuff constantly to help other kids make natural connections," Boyd said. "I love being a host school."
After one round of visits, the program seems to be going well. Students sat in chairs around the tank and called out names of fish. Or, they gathered in the hallway to match photos to pictures on a poster hanging on the wall. In a nearby classroom, they sketched pencil drawings of catfish and bass.
"The thing I look for is student engagement, which I certainly saw," McDonald said.
The One Fish curriculum will wrap up in the spring with a voluntary family fishing trip to Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
It's not clear yet what will happen with the tanks at the end of the year. There has been talk of using them as part of a summer program. And it's possible the equipment will be used again next year, though the tanks might be home to frogs or turtles instead of fish.