100 Trout-in-the-Classroom

  • November 19, 2014
  • Posted by Brandin Krempasky, Big Sky Watershed Corps Member

As part of my term as Big Sky Watershed Corps, I experienced many unique and exciting opportunities in the beautiful area of Big Sky, Montana. One in particular was Trout-in-the-Classroom. Trout-in-the-Classroom (TIC) is a stimulating environmental education program, which resulted from numerous collaborations between teachers, volunteers, government agencies, and local organizations. During the 2013-2014 school year, Ophir Elementary’s 4th Grade class was able to participate in the TIC program guided by me, as the Blue Water Task Force Corps member. The program was part of an overarching service-learning project to learn about native trout, their habitat, water quality issues and local water resources specific to the Upper Gallatin River. As part of the project, the students raised 100 rainbow trout from eggs to fry in a 55 gallon fish tank. Let’s say, at the beginning I had no idea how to raise 100 delicate trout, let alone the idea of everything that could go wrong in front of 25 kids. But this program was too cool to pass up. I made some calls and eventually 100 bright orange eggs were picked up from the Ennis National Fish Hatchery and transported safely in a tiny medicine bottle to Ophir. The new tank-home was insulated by thick poster board which students artistically decorated with aquatic plants and insects, and small windows were created for the kids to peek through. As we acclimated the eggs to their new tank, the kids watched diligently as one-by-one each egg plopped from the bottle into the large tank. The eggs sunk to the bottom and settled within the large gravel; they would stay hidden for another two weeks.

During the next few weeks, their teacher, Mr. H and I would led the kids outdoors to the nearby creeks and river access to measure water quality parameters such as pH, temperature, turbidity and grab water samples to test for nitrates back at the BWTF lab. In the classroom, students engaged in indoor lessons of fish biology and ecology, water quality parameters, the water cycle, groundwater movement and aquifer systems, and general watershed science. The opportunity presented itself to take a field trip to Big Horn Pass which leads to Gallatin Lake, the headwaters of the Gallatin River. Students had time to reflect on what they saw and experienced, including wading across the river barefoot (if students wished) after we found out the bridge had blown out during a previous year’s peak flow. These type of outings certainly did not happen in during my elementary years back in urban Virginia, where I’m from. While the kids knowledge grew, as did the trout. From eggs to 3 inch fry, one hundred would rise to the surface for feeding. I would take one small group each week, and teach them about how to test the water quality of the tank and compare those measurements to what we gathered from the Gallatin.

Altogether, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for not only these little future leaders but for me as well. I am fortunate enough to say I made an impact; I led this program without having any guidance and I was able to connect with the students. These kids constantly showed gratitude, and a few even mentioned that they would like to be a scientist someday. Now how cool is that?


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