Pa. Trout in the Classroom program offers great learning experiences for Nottingham School fourth-graders
● By Steven Hoffman
On May 22, fourth-graders in Scott Schaffer’s class at the Nottingham School in Oxford released the brook trout that they raised in the classroom during the school year into the Little Elk Creek as part of the Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom program.
Schaffer said that the hands-on program gave students an opportunity to learn about ecology and the environment, the life cycle and habitat of fish, and much more while they maintained an aquarium and cared for the fish in the classroom.
“It gave the students that instant connection that you wouldn’t be able to get just from a textbook,” Schaffer explained.
The Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom program is an interdisciplinary initiative for students in grades 3-12. Each teacher who incorporates the program into their classroom instruction can tailor it to meet the needs for their students, so each program is unique. The Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom program includes applications in environment and ecology, science, mathematics, social studies, language and fine arts, and more.
The fish eggs were shipped to the Nottingham School in October. Schaffer's classroom started with approximately 200 fish eggs. A few weeks before the eggs even arrived, Schaffer and the students got the aquarium set up in the classroom. The first thing that they needed to do was make sure that the equipment, including the filter and chiller, were working properly. The water temperature for the aquarium was set at 52.1 degrees, and it was carefully controlled to be within one degree of the temperature of the creek so that the fish would be hatched and raised in an environment that is similar to the one that they would eventually be placed into when they were released.
Once the fish were hatched, students had the opportunity to help care for them in a variety of different ways.
Lauren Meiler, a student in the class, said that they helped teach the newly hatched fish how to get their food.
As the fish became more active and started to grow, the students were careful to make sure that the aquarium was a clean and safe environment for them. They regularly tested things like the nitrate levels.
“The students fed the fish and maintained the tank,” Schaffer said. “The fish are fed three times a week.”
As the school year progressed, Schaffer incorporated lessons about science, ecology and the environment, using what the students were learning as they by raised the fish.
Landen Rozich, one of the students in the classroom, said that it was a lot of work, but worth it.
Rozich said that the class did an experiment where they placed five fish in a separate tank and changed one variable—the temperature of the water was warmer than the water in the aquarium. As a result of this one variable change, the students found that the five fish did not grow to be as large as the fish in the larger aquarium.
One student, Dakota Summers, said that they had to keep the lid on the aquarium the whole time to prevent the fish from leaping out.
The students frequently collaborated when they were working with the fish, which was an added benefit of the program.
“It brought us together as a class,” said student Logan Spano.
The students were unequivocally enthusiastic about the experience. The classroom had numerous visitors, including State Rep. John Lawrence, in the weeks before the fish were released back into the Little Elk Creek.
Several of the students said that they enjoyed caring for the fish and watching them grow. They were eager to finish the project by releasing the fish into the water, but they were also going to miss taking care of them.
Overall, the survival rate for the fish was around 50 percent, which was higher than the students had expected. On the day the fish were released into the creek, there were 94 fish.
As a teacher, Schaffer said that he would welcome the opportunity to take part in the Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom project again.
“I think we all learned as we went along,” Schaffer said. “I’d like to see more of this in the classroom.”