Vlad Glushkov, Brad Altman and Sarah Pearson react to finding a milt sac in the pink salmon they were dissecting in Dave Michaels fourth-grade class at Tustumena Elementary School last week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Most of the student’s in Dave Michael’s fourth-grade class at Tustumena Elementary School have handled a salmon for one reason or another.
Friday, students got a chance to put labels and functions with all those parts of the fish that normally are tossed back in the river during a dissection led by Patti Berkhahn of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“It keeps brining us back to the life sciences throughout the year,” said Michael. “I like to keep brining them back to the fact that they have such a wonderful resource.”
The resource to which Michael was referring in-cludes Tustumena Lake and the Kasilof River, just a stone’s throw from the school.
The dissection lesson is a part of Fish and Game’s “Salmonids in the Classroom” program, a curriculum de-signed to help students learn about one of Alaska’s most valuable resources.
“The mission is salmon education. The main idea behind ‘Salmonids in the Classroom’ is to teach about the salmon life cycle,” Berkhahn said.
The year-long program starts in the fall, when classes set up incubation tanks, then visit a salmon stream for an egg take with Fish and Game staff.
Students follow the development of their eggs, from egg to eyed egg to alevin to fry, and fish are released in a stocked lake in the spring.
Berkhahn said she tries to do a variety of projects with participating classes during the year, including a dissection, an ice fishing outing and stream studies.
“This whole program is to tie in salmon education, for students to take on stewardship of our local streams and to get them out fishing ethically,” Berkhahn said.
She said nearly all the elementary schools on the Kenai Peninsula are participating in the program, and some of the high schools also are incubating eggs this year.
With high schools, Berk-hahn said, she’ll help where needed but generally provides supplies while the teachers work the lesson into the curriculum themselves.
Berkhahn added that Skyview High School students would come help with ice fishing and Homer Flex students help with stream studies.If there’s time to squeeze it in this spring, Berkhahn said she’d like to get Michael’s class out to Crooked Creek for a stream study there.
Patti Berkhahn of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game uses a stuffed fish to explain salmon anatomy to the class while leading the dissection.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Michael said the program is a great way for him to supplement his science curriculum, and his students appeared to enjoy the fish dissection.
The lesson started with a salmon’s external anatomy, and students then removed the internal organs one at a time, getting a chance to examine each one.
“How many times do you clean a fish, and it’s just parts?” Michael said. “Teaching them some scientific language at this level is good.”
Students had a variety of questions and comments during the dissection, from “Why do fish have teeth on their tongues?” to “Someone dropped an eyeball and stepped on it.”
Berkhahn also brought along a pair of pike netted this past fall as part of Fish and Game’s study of the invasive species.
Students got a first-hand glance at why biologists are concerned about pike in peninsula lakes: While one fish had some partially digested insects in its belly, the other had a silver salmon smolt.
One student commented that his father was a fishing guide, and Michael said four or five students in his class belonged to commercial fishing families, which brought him back to the importance of learning about the resource so as to better manage it.
“Hopefully, they understand the resource. If it’s not cared for, it can go away,” Michael said.
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