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West Jordan Journal

Fourth-graders complete study of fish life cycle by releasing classroom fish into pond

Jul 25, 2018 04:36PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students scooped fish from the transporting cooler into the pond, a natural habitat for the trout. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com 

Fourth-graders raised 200 rainbow trout in their classroom and then released them into their natural habitat. 

“Part of our core is Utah habitats and Utah animals and to observe the behavior of fish—so that was part of the whole experience,” said Jessica McKnight, fourth-grade teacher at Hayden Peak Elementary in West Jordan. 

In January, the classroom aquarium became home to 200 trout eggs donated by the Division of Utah Wildlife and Trout Unlimited. For five months, students tended to the water quality, the feeding and the caring of the fish. They studied and observed the stages of the trout's life cycle firsthand. 

Brandon Eyre said he enjoyed this kind of classroom learning. 

“I’d rather see it, feel it and touch it than read about it,” he said. 

McKnight said between the direct instruction from the curriculum and the hands-on knowledge the students gained from sharing a classroom with an aquarium of fish, they learned and retained a lot of information. They also had fun. They even gave the fish names—Flash, Marshmallow, Voldemort, Italics, Zip, Bubbles, to name a few.

The class didn’t know exactly how many fish they had until they counted them as they were transferred into a cooler prior to relocation. 

Sixty trout survived to be released into Millrace Pond in Taylorsville. Brandon said he hoped they hadn’t domesticated them too much so they would be able to survive with their natural instincts. 

After the fish were settled into their natural habitat, McKnight took the opportunity to catch some macro invertebrates for the students to observe. The class also walked along the Jordan River, noting characteristics of the wetland habitats they had discussed in class. 

“It's really nice to see a teacher go above what she has to do to get the kids involved in the classroom,” said Stephanie Davis, a parent helper for the field trip. “This is definitely more fun than the day to day.” 

The only disappointment of the project was that the other fourth-grade classes were unable to join the field trip. Because of budget limitations, the principal could only afford to pay for one bus to transport students to the pond. The other fourth-graders had helped raise the fish as well. McKnight plans to apply for an additional grant next year to bring the whole fourth grade to the release. 

“It’s nice to be able to have this culminating activity to be able to use everything that they’ve learned,” said McKnight. “The kids loved it; I loved it. I plan on doing it again next year. It was a great opportunity.” 

The project was made possible by a Jordan Education Foundation grant. McKnight applied for the grant to cover the costs of the classroom aquarium and supplies.

In 10 years of teaching, this was McKnight’s first time applying for a grant. She was inspired by Civics Academy, a professional development training arranged last summer by Pam Su’a, content administrator of Jordan School District’s social studies curriculum department. 

The district provides numerous opportunities for professional development training during the summer, when teachers have time to attend. Trainings are funded by grants from organizations such as the Utah Commission on Character and Civic Education and the Library of Congress. 

Su’a said teachers want good quality instruction to increase their skills. The group trainings also create an opportunity for them to share their ideas, strategies, successes and failures with each other. 

McKnight said the professional development training she attended last year inspired her to combine civic engagement with the science curriculum. She was introduced to a variety of new resources and programs. 

“I got excited about trying new things and about getting it out of the classroom,” said McKnight. 

She learned about collecting macro invertebrates from a class she took through Utah State University’s Master Naturalist Watershed Program. McKnight plans to apply for future grants to support future projects and field trips. 

“With all these different professional developments, I’ve been able to combine different ideas and put them into place,” she said.