Salmon in the Classroom helping students learn in Michiana

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Science has long been a hands-on subject and one classroom in Michiana is continuing that trend. Students there get a glimpse into the life of an important Michigan resource.

This is now happening in Coloma, where students are looking into an aquarium instead of a computer screen.

It might sound a little strange, but a 6th grade classroom in Coloma is home to a school, of fish that is.

6th Grader Blake Cartwright explains how much fun he is having in the class, “It is probably the funnest class that we have.”

These fish are here for more than just fun, they are part of Salmon in the Classroom, a program run through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

6th Grade Science Teacher Coloma Kevin Oles explains how excited she sees the students about the fish, “The students love it, they come in here, most of them every day, and the first place they go is to the fish tank to see how big the fish are getting. Especially after spring break they can notice a difference.”

The change after spring break was dramatic, because these fish didn't start off looking like fish.

6th Grader Julia Sternman explains the changes they have seen, “It started a couple months after school started and we got the eggs, but it wasn't very interesting then because after you saw them once they didn't move much. So we didn't really look at them much, but then after we came back from winter break, it was really cool because they were moving around and swimming around in there.”

Cartwright explains the stages they took while in the eggs, “At the center of the egg, they were orange, there was like a shell around it, a clearish shell, and then as it got closer to hatching, little black dot, its eye, would show up it was really cool.”

Sternman describes the processes after the eggs hatch, “After it hatched it was about an inch long maybe and it just swam around and it didn't move much, just silver, and then when they got a little bit bigger they were really skinny but they swam a lot and now they are 3 or 4 inches long and they swim a lot and they are much bigger than they were.”

From eggs to fingerlings, students have been involved every step of the way, feeding them, checking the water and of course observing.

Oles explains how beneficial they fish have been in the classroom, “They are much more engaged, they find it more enjoyable being able to look at the fish when we talk about them, and we relate, even if we are doing an activity, not necessarily dealing with the fish exactly, but they can relate it and look over at the tank when they are thinking about the needs of the salmon, how do they interact in the eco-system, and it helps them sort of make it more relatable to what they are doing.”

To complete the 6 month program, the students venture outside the classroom with their new friends.

The fingerlings were released in the Paw Paw Rriver, in about three and half years they will spawn and there is a chance that they will return to Coloma.

Oles explains when the fish spawn during the year, “In the fall usually late October, early November sometime in there, they will come back into the Paw Paw River, that is why we plant them in a given river.”

Cartwright describes her feelings towards releasing the fish, “It makes me feel a little interesting to know that the same fish that was in classroom, I might catch later, it might be that big.”

According to the DNR, Michigan anglers contribute about $2 billion annually to the states economy. Salmon in the Classroom has been releasing fish back into local rivers for over 10 years.

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