Thursday, March 7, 2013

Understanding Urban Nature

Urban nature. This seems to be a paradoxical concept. How can you connect to wildlife, trees, rivers, Mother Nature when you're surrounded by tall brick buildings? Busses and cars speed along paved roads rather than hooves of deer along dirt trails. This poses a problem for children in urban areas. How are they to escape the city and experience a true learning "environment?" What if the environment could come to them?

USFWS biologist, Cheri Anderson teaching one of the Salmon in
the Classroom lessons to students

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Salmon in the Classroom
It turns out – it can! The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Salmon in the Classroom program, typically brought to more rural area schools, was adapted to bring nature into the hands of children bound by urban settings. This year, Boise-Eliot Humboldt elementary students were chosen to become junior fish biologists who would help raise a generation of salmon. Kids raising salmon at school?! Sounds far-fetched, but let me get into some of the details.

The salmon that students have been raising continue to grow.
Credit: Pat Edwards/USFWS 
The return of the squishy egg
The program began in early January when salmon at local hatcheries were beginning to spawn. A set of fertilized eggs was delivered to Boise-Eliot and the students began their first lesson. These squishy, bright orange eggs (proven to be a hit among kids: read more) made up the students' first introduction to the life cycle of salmon. Held in a tank in the school's library, the students observed and monitored the growth of these tiny eggs as they slowly developed into fry. 

Malachi (center) explains each of the organs to his classmates.
Credit: Pat Edwards/USFWS

Everything to do with salmon
As the eager students waited for their fish to grow, USFWS fish biologists visited the school teaching lessons on everything from watersheds, to fish dissection. The fish dissection portion was a particularly big hit among the students – what could be more exciting than the icky, stinky insides of a fish? One student – Malachi Spinks, nicknamed "Dr. Spinks" by his classmates hopes to be a fish biologist in the future. He spent the lesson leading his peers in identifying each organ of the fish. The night before, Malachi found and completed an online fish dissection module to be better prepared. How did Malachi become so interested in fish? "My dad always used to cook fish when I was growing up, and he let me help him." Malachi shared. A little spark can carry a child's love for nature a long way. A night of family bonding, some sweating in the kitchen and a delicious meal as the reward, and Malachi was hooked!

When it comes to science - these junior fish biologists aren't grossed out
by anything!

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The final step
Later this month, the children will embark on a field trip to Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery where they will release their fish into the Columbia River. This trip will finalize their study of the salmon life cycle and give them an idea of what it is like to work with salmon out in the field. From the river, to the classroom, back to the river - These future fish biologists might spend most of their time in the center of a big city but urban nature is real and with a little bit of creativity and planning anybody can be a part of it!

For more information about the Salmon in the Classroom program visit here.

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