MEMS @ Smokey House Center
The two 6th grade classes at Manchester Elementary-Middle School have enjoyed a wonderful yearlong outdoor education program through the Tutorial Center of Danby's Smokey House Center.
Starting in August, on the third Tuesday of each month, all MEMS 6th graders spent most of their school day learning in nature. Staff of the Tutorial Center introduced students as well as teachers Melissa Rice and Seth Bonnett to the diverse ecology of Smokey House's 5,000 acres. Regardless of weather, students assessed the characteristics of each habitat, conducted measurements, and studied how various aspects of the environment interact and affect each other.
(Here are pictures I took this past Tuesday, when I spent several rainy hours at Smokey House with Melissa, Seth, and their students.)
As part of these investigations, students have learned about the different water sources on the property--pond, beaver pond, brooks, stream, and vernal pools--all of which comprise the watershed of Mill Brook, the stream into which they will release their trout on May 16. One winter day when the temperature didn't break 10 degrees, students even measured the thickness of ice on Smokey House's farm pond.
As the year and this wonderful program winds down, students are now working in groups to prepare project reports, which they will deliver to two separate audiences: Smokey House and Tutorial Center staff and, on the following day, their parents. Projects include such topics as the impact the construction of a dock has on a pond and its inhabitants and developing a land-management plan for a region of the Smokey House grounds.
(After spending this terrific day with the MEMS classes, I told Melissa that I would like to interview her and her students and, with video editing help from some of her students, turn the interviews into a YouTube video. If I succeed in doing this, you'll find news of the video in a future blog.)
More wildflower photos
The time I spent with MEMS 6th graders recently gave me the opportunity to photograph a few more wildflowers. Here they are.
Wonderful Vermont ETV resources.
Every week I DVR Vermont Public Television's Outdoor Journal. Usually each half-hour episode has at least one segment that appeals to my outdoor (and TIC) interests.
I've provided a link to the YouTube video collection.
Below is an interesting piece that focuses on efforts to educate highway department personnel and others about stream dynamics and how these need to be considered when in-stream work is done, especially following a heavy storm event. It relates quite directly to the "After the Flood" article I posted as part of my March 6th blog.
The moral of the story is that everybody--citizens, property owner, scientists, bulldozer operators, sportspeople, etc.--needs to understand how streams work, what constitutes good habitat for a stream's aquatic life, and how by human intervention we could either make our streams better or worse.
The following story describes how spawning landlocked salmon leave Lake Champlain and swim up the Winooski River until they're blocked by the first of three hydroelectric dams. That's where an inventive system traps the salmon, allowing them to be netted and transported by truck to a section of the river above the third dam, where they have a chance of spawning successfully.
I think your students will like the video
Latest list of Release Day details
Here again is a link to the current list of Release Days, which now includes details on 38 schools.
Our first Release Days--two of them--will be held on Friday, May 5. On Wednesday, May 3, I will publish the next blog, which will provide some nitty gritty information on such processes as netting the trout out of the tank and transporting them. Look for that.
But in the meantime, try to get some publicity for your program and for your Release Day. Good luck!
After the early tease, spring comes SLOWLY to Vermont
I just got back from spending a week in Maryland, where my younger daughter and her family live and where on Sunday it was 84 degrees! Not so in Castleton on Friday. Instead, the temperature was struggling to get out of the 40s, and the Castleton River was a mere 44 degrees.
One day while in the D.C. area, I rented a rowboat at Fletchers Cove Boathouse and got out on the Potomac River for an hour and a half of fishing. The shad were running, and, using my 9-weight fly rod and, as you can see, a glittery gold "shad dart," I landed and released 16 of these fat and feisty anadromous fish (one pictured below). I can't think of many world capitals where, within the city limits, you can catch healthy, wild fish, much less on fly fishing gear. (Do you need to look up the definition of "anadromous"?)
This map shows you how close I was to downtown D.C., including to the White House.
Aron Merrill, of Williston Central School, sent me an interesting e-mail on Wednesday. Aron let me know when WCS will be having its Release Day (May 12 on Lewis Creek in Starksboro), but he also provided this:
We have had (fingers crossed) an amazing survival rate--so many in the tank we can't count them all. And we are running Trout Week May 8-12. Activities include: fly casting, water and trout science, lure making, fish and wildlife digest scavenger hunt, trout poetry. and art.
How cool is that!
Resources for field work
There are a number of documents available in the Google Docs collection on the VTTIC Web site that can support your efforts to learn and teach about stream.
One of these, an attractive PDF called "My Healthy Stream," was produced by Trout Unlimited.
Another, "Living in Harmony with Streams," was developed by a consortium of Vermont conservation organizations.
Here are links to the two documents.
Measuring stream speed
Along with many other potentially exciting field work projects, some TIC teachers have their students measure stream volume and speed. If you Google phrases like "measuring stream speed" or "measuring stream volume," you will find excellent instructional videos like the following.
Dissecting a trout
There's hardly anything that you can't learn to do on YouTube! That includes dissecting a trout. Here's one of many examples of videos you can find on the Internet that demonstrate the dissection process. You can use it either to (a) teach yourself how to perform a dissection in front of your students, (b) teach your students so they can dissect a trout, or (c) just have your students learn about trout anatomy by watching it.
Many supermarkets sell whole farm-raised rainbow trout, but you could also consider using locally caught warm-water fish like perch or bluegills. The anatomy will be essentially the same.
Here are three grant programs that could allow teachers to enhance their TIC work.
NCTM Accepting Applications for Projects Connecting Mathematics to Other 9-12 Grade Subject Areas
DEADLINE: November 3, 2017
Grants of up to $4,000 will be awarded for the development of senior high classroom materials or lessons that connect mathematics to other fields....
Toshiba America Foundation Accepting Applications for Science, Math Projects
Grants will be awarded to middle- and high-school teachers who are passionate about making science and mathematics more engaging for their students....
National Science Teachers Association Invites Nominations for Shell Science Teaching Award
DEADLINE: December 15, 2017
The annual $10,000 prize recognizes an outstanding classroom science teacher (K-12) who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom science teaching...
Release Day schedule.
The list of dates and locations for Vermont's TIC Release Days continues to grow. The button below will take you to the latest version of the list.
But spring is here!
I started this blog post complaining about the temperature on Friday, but since then, the weather has gotten better. Here are three pictures I took this afternoon. The first is of the Castleton River near my home; the second and third are photos of trout lilies growing alongside the river. They are one of my favorite signs of spring!
If you're curious about how this delicate flower got its name, look carefully at one of the leaves.
Spring has hit the southland! Release Days starting to be scheduled. Hatchery field trip. More RD ideas.
It hit 83 degrees in Rutland County yesterday! The pussy willows along the Mettawee River in Pawlet were almost ready to pop.
Here's more evidence of the advancing season. Aren't these early spring yellows and reds beautiful?
Partial schedule of Release Days
Many schools are progressing with their Release Day planning. Here's a list of schools I've heard from with some of the particulars.
A close-up from Danielle
See the photo Danielle Levine, at School house Learning Center, sent me last week. Here's what Danielle said in transmitting the picture:
Check out how you can still see the trout anatomy through the trout! We were excited to see the digestive system as well as the heart and brain. So cool!
More ideas about Release Day
I belong to a national TIC e-mail group that often provides questions and answers of general interest. Recently, Kelsey Plourde, a New Hampshire teacher, posted the following question.
Wondering about some of your best strategies for release day! Ideally, I'd love to have each student release their own fish- them each with their own small container. How long can they be contained in a baggie or small container? I'm thinking about the goldfish that you can win at a carnival. If we kept the temperature cold, could this potentially work?
Here are some of the responses.
Here in Illinois, students are split into groups and rotate through a few activities. One group conducts the same water quality tests that are run on their aquarium – temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and phosphate. They compare these results to the results from the aquarium. Another group does some seining to find what insects, small bait fish, etc. are present in this stretch of the stream. The third group heads to a riffle area, and closely inspects some rocks to see what caddis, clinging mayflies, etc. may be present there. Most of the students at our TIC schools have never even been in a stream.
Regarding the method of transportation for the troutlings, we transport the trout in about a 30 quart cooler with a battery bait bucket aerator. The cooler is about ½ full with water from the aquarium. We place a zip lock bag of ice in the cooler to keep water temperature cool during transport. Once at the creek, we add some stream water to the cooler. At release time, we select a release site upstream from the prior activities, that allows the students to kneel right at the bank to release their fish. Fish are netted from the cooler by a TU volunteer or teacher, and placed one each in clear plastic party cup. We count the fish, and the students each take turns releasing. The actual release only takes about 15 – 20 minutes.
Marvin Strauch, Illinois
What we do here is require that the fish be bagged right before the release and transported in a cooler. When we get to the release site, we have a student take the temp of the release site and another take the temp of the water around the fish. We then bring the temps to within 5 degrees using mixing with the water from the release site. This may take 10-20 minutes as it can’t be rushed--especially when you are going from colder around the fish to warmer at the release site. I also go take temps at the release site days prior to the release and have the teachers adjust their chillers to that temp so the shock isn’t so great on the fish.
It depends on the age group but with the younger kids we dish the fish into small plastic clear cups and have them all hold them till we can do a mass release. We do this in about a 10-15 minute time span, so it goes pretty fast and it is usually cool here in the spring so the temp in the cup doesn’t really change. I would not hold them for a long period of time--15-20 minutes max.
For the older students we release the whole bag at once explaining that there is safety in numbers as the fish will school together.
Maggie Lindsey, South Dakota
We transport all fry in a large cooler with water from the tank and several ice packs to keep them cool. Once we get to the release site, one teacher scoops fry, one at a time, into a dixie cup while another distributes cups to children who have found and are standing at their release sites. Kids do not move around with the fish, teachers do. Once everyone has a fry, we sing "Bye-Bye, Trout" song. Kids know once they hear the song it's time to release. It's tons of fun!
Tina Minard, New Hampshire
Before the students get released for the trip, we transport our fish to the release site in coolers. As long as the creek isn't too high, they get transferred to a float box in the creek until we get back there to release them, or they stay in the cooler with the aerator. We use plastic quart containers to give the students fish, and they walk downstream to a marked off area to let them go--we put a piece of flagging across the creek to keep boots from smashing them walking back and forth.
Dave Andrews, Pennsylvania
Students in my class assess two different places on a river. Then, using the data collected, determine the best location for release (required to write an argument paper). Then on a difference day we bring a clean cooler filled with water from the tank that matches the river. We use dixie cups and each student gets to release a couple of trout. When we walk to the site, the person carrying the cooler tries there best to be steady and not slosh the fish around. Note also that we do a final assessment of habitat and look for any predators so the trout are released in the best place possible.
Sara Richards, New Hampshire
Visiting the Eisenhower hatchery
Emma Vastola, of Mount Holly School, took her 3rd and 4th graders to the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in Pittsford, on April 12. Here's what Emma said:
Our field trip to the fish hatchery in Chittenden today was a huge success! The students loved it and Henry Bouchard, the hatchery manager, gave us a great tour!
The students were able to see young alevin and fry from three different fish species (Brook Trout, Landlocked Salmon and Lake Trout) inside. Then we went outside. We were able to see fish of each species at the various stages of their life cycle. They were especially excited to see the adult fish and see a 13-year-old Lake Sturgeon!
Below are some photos.
Here's a bit of writing produced by one of Emma's 4th graders:
One rainy Wednesday, my class went to the Eisenhower Fish Hatchery in Pittsford. It was about 40 minutes from school. When we got the met our guide, Mr. Bouchard, who would give us a tour of the hatchery. The first thing we looked at where Brook Trout alevin. Then lake trout after we looked at the fish in big white tents. When we were looking at them we saw Brook Trout, Salmon, River Trout and a 13 year old Sturgeon!
Other Release Day activities
As e-mails above reveal, there are many ways to approach Release Day. Except for those schools that engage their students in fieldwork activities all year long, the vast majority of teachers plan a Release Day that includes at least some fieldwork.
Here's a link to one of the many Web pages you can find on the Internet that describes the Macro Mayhem game.
Well, today finally felt like spring! I even got out for half an hour at the end of the day to do my first stream fishing of the season. I hit a tiny brook within walking distance of my house and, even though the water temperature was well below 40, managed to catch a three-inch creek chub--well, maybe it was 2 and a half inches--on a size 16 bead-head nymph.
The tank's leaking!!
At 8:10 Wednesday morning, I got the following e-mail from Cynthia Fortin, of Northfield Middle/High School:
We have a major leak that developed! What size should we use as a replacement?
I answered Cynthia's question (55-gallon) and told her about how, on Mother's Day 2014, Mary Hogan School's Steve Flint got a call from his school's custodian, informing him that their new tank had sprung a major leak and had only an inch or two of water in it (see below).
Since no area store that sold tanks was open, Steve got to work improvising. He found the largest plastic storage bin available, filled it with treated water, and piece-by-piece transferred first the equipment--filter, chiller, aerator--to the storage bin and then the fish. Most of his fish didn't survive the mere inch of water, but the amazing thing is that 55 of them did. Nice job, Steve!
A little more than four hours later, Cynthia sent the following e-mail to Shawn Nailor, TIC liaison for the Mad Dog TU chapter, and me:
Hi Shawn and Joe!
I just purchased a new tank and it’s all set and the fish are happy! We are too! We still have 91 little ones happy to be in their bigger home (we let them out of their breeder nets today) and they seem to be doing fine. Our die-off has subsided and the ones remaining are looking strong!
Thanks so much for your support!
Release Day equipment
In the remainder of this post, I'll talk about resources that might support your Release Day activities.
Many TIC programs engage their students in stream studies, both during the school year and on Release Day. One of the most popular in-stream activities is collecting and classifying macroinvertebrates and then using the macro data to calculate the stream's "biotic index," a measure of its health.
To collect macros, a net of some sort is needed. Commercial nets--usually a rectangular or D-shaped net attached to a long handle--are available but can be expensive. I've provided links below to two examples, one (a "student" version") costs $29.95, the other, (probably designed for professionals) costs $201.
Another option is a "kick screen." A kick screen is essentially two vertical sticks with nylon netting attached to the sticks. Here's a commercial kick screen that costs $53.75.
But "kick screens" are also easy and inexpensive to make. All you need to do is buy a six-foot tomato stake and 36" of 24"-wide nylon screening at your local hardware store. Cut the stake in half, sharpen one end of each now-36" stake, and then staple or tack one end of the screening to the bottom of each stake. (You'll want to leave about two inches of stake below the bottom of the screening.) You can probably make five kick screens for under $10.
Here's a photo of MEMS students looking for bugs and other creatures on the kick screen they just used for collecting macros. Below the kick screen is a white plastic dish pan into which the students are transferring the insects.
Below is a photo of one of the eight kick screens I made a few years ago. Sometimes after a busy Release Day they need a little repair.
After your students have caught macros, what do they do with them?
If you're planning a macro collecting/classifying activity, you'll want to assemble one or more collecting kits. If, like many teachers, you choose to break your students up into small groups of four or five kids, each under the supervision of an adult volunteer, you will need a kit for each group. So, you'll have to acquire inexpensive materials.
Here's an example of a collecting kit.
None of these items was expensive, and all, with the possible exception of the pipettes, should be available locally.
I've laid out all but the "Dollar Store" wash basin on the foam board below.
Contents of collecting kit
That folder also contains a "Biotic Index" that allows students to use data on the macros they collected to calculate the health of the stream in which they were sampling.
In my March 20 blog I offered a few ideas about who might be available to help you and your students on Release Day. Those suggestions included your local Trout Unlimited liaison as well as staff associated with one of the regional "natural resources conservation district" groups. Now I want to offer two more options.
But first, a photo of the Castleton River at 1:00 pm today when the water temperature was 35 degrees!
What would you call that color? It's kind of a cross between pea soup and coffee with lots of cream. Brrr!
All across the state of Vermont you will find a variety of watershed groups. Here's a map of their distribution. I bet there's one near your school.
Many of those red dots represent groups that have a special interest in a local river. Some focus not so much on a specific river but rather on a watershed. Here are some of the rivers covered by these organizations:
Below I've provided a link to a Web page listing all these organizations as well as others.
Here's an example of the Web site of just one of these groups.
Members of the various Audubon Society chapters around the state have also in the past assisted schools with their Release Days. Here is some contact information on each of Vermont's eight Audubon Society chapters. I'll bet there's one in your neighborhood!
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.