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Tales From The Tank: Turning Kids on to Science

by Stephanie Collins

Each September an excited group of young 7 year-olds bounce excitedly through my classroom door. Fresh from summer vacation, they are eager to learn new things and impress me with their good behavior and beautifully coloured pictures. As the month rolls on, we settle into our routines, and the excitement that we experienced in those first few weeks begins to wane…….the real work now begins!!!! How do I keep the enthusiasm for learning going in a primary classroom? Why can’t everyday be like that first week of school? I, like most teachers, constantly ask myself those questions (especially when the months of January, February and March hit in Newfoundland!!! ) Well, I did find the answer and it has changed my whole Life Science Unit on Animal Growth and Changes.

Four years ago my colleagues and I discovered the Fish Friends Program, initially sponsored by the Atlantic Salmon Federation in conjunction with Newfoundland Light and Power. The aim of this program was to have students care for Atlantic salmon eggs and raise them to become fry. What better, hands-on way could we teach Grade Two students about life cycles than by raising salmon right in our own school?? It was definitely a perfect fit for our Science curriculum not to mention the curriculum connections in other academic and personal development areas of the Primary Program.

Each February, my colleagues and I begin the process of setting up the fish tank and chilling system. At our school, we set up in the main lobby, as we decided from the start, that the conservation initiative of this project is one that should be promoted and shared with the entire school community. By March, our tank is ready to receive 100 pink salmon eggs. We gather all the Grade Two students in front of the tank, and gently pour the eggs into the cool, 4 degree water. Immediately, you see the engagement in the eyes of these young learners! The concern they demonstrate through their endless questions reflects the responsibility they feel for these precious living things. Sometimes we have to remove an egg because it has died. The children feel sad but we reassure them that there are still many eggs surviving. Day after day, they peer into the tank, waiting for something to happen. Of course, they know from our classroom instruction, that the next stage is that these eggs will hatch and become alevin. During this phase of the life cycle, the young trout will stay at the bottom of the tank and take their nourishment from their large yolk sacs. When the sacs are mostly absorbed, we gradually raise the temperature of the water. Soon the young fish emerge from the bottom as fry. This is a very exciting time as the fish begin to shoot about the tank in search of food. In about another month, these young fry are ready to be delivered to their natural habitat. The students are excited to deliver the young fish to their new home. They are proud to be stewards of the environment and delight in explaining to you how this baby salmon will grow up to spawn and start the life cycle over again. The moment is bittersweet as each individual student gently releases a fry into the cool running stream.

“Bye! Bye!” they whisper, as the warmth from the sun hints at the approaching summer vacation.

When we arrive back at school, we begin the process of cleaning our tank and packing it away for the following year. I can’t help but reflect on the learning and profound effect that this project has had. Besides the academic outcomes and process skills, I think about the communication skills that have evolved, the collaboration between teachers and students, the critical thinking and empathy that has been fostered.  These children have been involved in real life learning and they will never forget it! And I have survived a Newfoundland winter!

Stephanie and her colleagues created a powerful hands-on experience students will never forget!  What questions do you have about this Atlantic Salmon Eggs project? How do you bring the Science Curriculum to life in your classroom?


In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve worked with primary, elementary, and special needs children in multi-grade, rural, and urban settings. I hold a Bachelor of Special Education degree and feel strongly about working to improve student learning and the school community at large. That’s why I’ve worked on committees to bring outdoor learning and Fish Friends to my school, Morris Academy. My passion project is writing proposals to receive grants and funding for fine arts. 



Photo Credit: Seiya Kawamoto/Thinkstock

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