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Photo: Jennifer Hodges.
Students releasing salmon into the lake on the Salmon Field Trip in Alaska.

Much of our hope for protecting the planet relies on the education of young children. That’s why this story from Alaska about getting up close and personal with the salmon life cycle is so interesting.

Claire Murashima reports for National Public Radio (NPR), “Kenny Lake School in Copper Center, Alaska, is small, with about 60 students from kindergarten to high school seniors. It’s even smaller in winter when some parents homeschool their children because of the long drives and slick roads.

“Jennifer Hodges is a third, fourth and fifth grade teacher. She says her three-grade class sits only at desks for 20 minutes a day. They do a lot of practical learning, such as raising Coho salmon from egg to Alevin to fry then releasing them into a lake.

“It’s through a program called Salmon in the Classroom, established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Kate Morse, program director for the Copper River Watershed Project, is in charge of implementing the program in six schools throughout Alaska’s Copper River watershed.

“Coho salmon lay eggs in the fall, when many schools start. The eggs remain in the classroom about six months before they are released into lakes. After that, they live for two to four years before they spawn and then die shortly afterwards.

“Every day, about a third of Hodges’ students ride the bus 45 minutes from the Native Village of Chitina. Many students already have experience fishing salmon, which is a staple in Native Alaskan communities.

‘It’s really a delicate balance because we are dealing with traditions and culture of the Native people,’ Hodges says. ‘This is their land, this is their salmon. And so we have to really be part of that.’

“Ahtna, a local tribal association, helped donate the tank in her classroom.

“Though many of her students grow up fishing salmon for food, few have raised them as pets.

” ‘The salmon have turned from being just fish in their backyard that they catch to eat, to fish that they are connecting to,’ says Hodges. ‘With this project, they have a whole different perspective because they know what it takes to actually go through the stages of a salmon.’

“Learning about climate change is more crucial now than ever. In 2022, the Arctic had its sixth-warmest year on record. But these lessons are made concrete to them in raising salmon, which require cold water to survive.

‘We had a failure in our equipment and it brought the temperature up about five degrees,’ says Hodges. ‘Just warming it that much just wiped out our eggs.’

“During the months that the salmon are in the classroom, students like to sit by the tank to observe. ‘When the eggs hatch they have sacs that carry their food,’ says Addy, a student. ‘That way they can hide still and don’t have to look for food. It’s funny because when they try to swim they just end up in circles.’ …

” ‘Putting hand sanitizer on your hands and then putting your fingers in the tank – you’ve polluted the tank,’ Hodges says. ‘That has happened to us before. That year we had seven make it. Normally we have about 180 that make it.’

“Students like to calculate when the salmon will turn from eggs to Alevin to fry based on the temperature of the tank. To them, it’s not practicing math problems: it’s predicting the future. …

“Since Hodges and her students live in such a rural area, there aren’t many field trips. But each year in May, she takes her students on the Salmon Field Trip, where they get to release the salmon they’ve raised in class. …

” ‘The best part is getting to release them after watching them hatch from eggs, grow into fry and take care of them,’ says Fisher, a student. ‘You get to say goodbye.’

“The student put the salmon in a bucket and then secured it with a seatbelt. Students suit up in chest waders, rubber bodysuits to keep them dry when they go into lakes, and then each gets a cup of about ten fish. They put the cup under water and let the fish swim out.”

More at NPR, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Bethesda Magazine
New research finds some children are more attentive after experiencing a class taught on the lawn.

As the fourth snow event of March 2018 decorates my yard, I’m finding it hard to visualize academic lessons on a lawn, but I know they do happen.

Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “A carefully designed 10-week study found outdoor lessons ‘boost subsequent classroom engagement, and boost it a great deal,’ writes a research team led by Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign. ‘After a lesson in nature, teachers were able to teach for almost twice as long without having to interrupt instruction to redirect students’ attention.’

“In the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Kuo and her colleagues note that, while many European nations have incorporated classes in nature into children’s education, the idea has not been embraced in the United States. This may reflect ‘concern on the part of teachers that outdoor lessons will leave students keyed up and unable to concentrate,’ they write. Their findings debunk that notion.

“The study featured third-graders (ages nine and 10) at an environment-oriented magnet school in the Midwest. The kids were predominantly African American, and 87 percent qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.

“Two teachers — one keen on the idea of teaching in nature, the other somewhat skeptical — each ‘delivered 10 pairs of lessons over 10 different weeks.’ On five of the 10 weeks, the first lesson of the pair was taught at a grassy spot just outside the school, adjacent to some woods.

” ‘For any given pair of lessons, both the treatment lesson (in nature) and its indoor counterpart were delivered by the same teacher to the same students, on the same topic, in the same week of the semester,’ the researchers write.

“The students’ engagement in the lesson taught immediately afterwards—which was always indoors—was measured in a variety of ways, including the teacher’s perception; the judgment of an independent observer who examined photographs of the classroom; and how often the teacher needed to stop teaching to attend to a student’s inappropriate behavior.

” ‘Classroom engagement was significantly better after lessons in nature,’ the researchers report. … Most striking was the reduction in ‘redirects,’ which are defined as ‘instances where a teacher interrupted the flow of instruction to redirect students’ attention.’

” ‘Normally, these occur roughly once every 3.5 minutes of instruction’ in a third-grade classroom, the researchers write. But after a lesson in nature, ‘teachers were able to teach for 6.5 minutes, on average, without interruption.’ …

“The five-minute-long walks to and from the outdoor learning area may have played a positive role. It’s also possible the kids were responding to rejuvenated instructors.” More here.

In college, I found the occasional springtime lesson on the lawn distracting, but there is no doubt it could perk up a teacher. And I know that both kids and adults benefit from just getting up and moving.

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At my husband’s college reunion yesterday, we heard a former classmate talk about a wonderfully innovative school he founded  in San Diego (High Tech High).

After hearing that a fairly typical class project was developing a genetic bar code to identify endangered species in the bush, my husband wondered how such an inventive school can function in today’s teaching-to-the-test world. I myself figured that whatever the kids absorb from meaningful projects and cutting-edge teaching they absorb deeply enough to pass tests if they need to.

And when I think of the lengths to which test mania is going, I think more schools should learn from High Tech High. Consider the latest testing aberration: robots grading essays.

Les Perelman at the Boston Globe gives examples:

” ‘According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.

“Any native speaker over age 5 knows that the preceding sentences are incoherent babble. But a computer essay grader, like the one Massachusetts may use as part of its new public school tests, thinks it is exceptionally good prose.

“PARCC, the consortium of states including Massachusetts that is developing assessments for the Common Core Curriculum, has contracted with Pearson Education, the same company that graded the notorious SAT essay, to grade the essay portions of the Common Core tests. Some students throughout Massachusetts just took the pilot test, which wasted precious school time on an exercise that will provide no feedback to students or to their schools.

“It was, however, not wasted time for Pearson. The company is using these student essays to train its robo-grader to replace one of the two human readers grading the essay, although there are no published data on their effectiveness in correcting human readers.

“Robo-graders do not score by understanding meaning but almost solely by use of gross measures, especially length and the presence of pretentious language. The fallacy underlying this approach is confusing association with causation. A person makes the observation that many smart college professors wear tweed jackets and then believes that if she wears a tweed jacket, she will be a smart college professor.” More here.

Uh-oh. Sounds like the children’s book Petunia. Fortunately, a timely explosion taught the silly goose that books have pages you need to read, that carrying a book under your wing doesn’t make you smart.

More explosions needed.

Photo: blog.spoongraphics.co.uk

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