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Hatching Salmon in the Classroom For Hands-on Learning

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 10, 2012

The students in Leslie Whiteford's 6th grade class at Willett Elementary School in Davis are very excited about the tiny 31 salmon they're raising in their classroom aquarium.  Samuel says he's learned much more observing these Chinook salmon than he'd learn from a textbook:

SAMUEL: "We can see how they're developing as they're young. Well, as they're eggs they don't move, but they move their eyes and you  can see their spin growing a bit. And then when they come out of their eggs, their  bellies are humongous."

How old are they now?  "I gotta do my math first," he says.

Lots of wiggling hands eagerly point to the board where the timeline shows the eggs hatched Nov 15. 

When it comes time to feed the inch-long salmon, Whiteford opens the top of the tank.   

The class watches attentively as the tiny swimmers zip around and nibble the food.  Haley explains why they're feeding them mashed-up bugs...

HALEY: "The only things they can eat is bugs because they don't want to go to the very top, or else sea gulls and bald eagles will try to eat them."

The students have researched all about the salmon life cycle and their role in the ecosystem.  Vera explains it's important to share what the class has learned about salmon.

VERA: "Their population isn't doing really well, and so we have to tell them about all the dangers like logging and building dams and overheating of the water."

The tanks and equipment are provided by the Fly Fishers of Davis.  The California Fish and Game department provides the eggs from state hatcheries and trains the teachers.

Whiteford is trained as a wildlife biologist.  She says having the salmon in the classroom is a great opportunity for kids to interact with the natural world:

WHITEFORD: "The attachment they form when they experience that in the classroom, when they actually watch the real thing happening, hatching out in the calssrom, baby fish, hwo do we feed them.  That kind of attachment creates motivation in learning more."

In addition to her science classes, she also incorporates the fish into the language arts class through writing essays,  and she even gets in some math as they learn ratios and formulas about growth and hatching.

The class will release the tiny salmon fry into the wild on December 16 in Discovery park in Sacramento.

But as the students explained, only about 4 out of a-thousand make it back to their spawning grounds.

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