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Volume 3, Number 4
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In Their Own Words
Aquaculture in Action

The Aquaculture in Action program first began recruiting and training teachers in the summer of 1998. From the start, the basic pitch went like this: an aquaculture project is one of the best ways to get American students to plug into serious science. It brings fish into the classroom, it creates a focus for teaching all kinds of research-based, problem-solving science, and it applies science to real-world issues in ecological restoration when students release their school-raised fish back into the wild.

The catch, of course, is that teachers have to learn before they can teach. For a new teacher recruit, the "action" in the Aquaculture in Action program starts with a week-long workshop held every other summer at South Carroll High School. Each teacher has to design, build and set up his or her own 210-gallon tank system, a hands-on project with plenty of chances for problem solving. Then they have to tackle topics like fish handling, biofiltering, and tank system monitoring.

They are not working alone. Coaching them through all their problem solving are Bob Foor-Hogue of South Carroll and Adam Frederick of the Maryland Sea Grant Extension Program. They will also provide counseling and networking all the way from fish delivery to fish release.

Does it work? Here's what some of the teachers discovered once they were released back into their classrooms.

On the workshop: I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it turned out to be. I enjoyed putting the unit together because that way I knew exactly what everything did. That was really helpful. And then back in the classroom I was able to explain it easier to the kids.

On starting up: I told them we were going to do some aquaculture. They said "What's aquaculture?" And so I explained that it is raising fish in the classroom here. And we hopefully will have these guys survive until June and then set them free.

On fish: We had kids that I don't even teach, kids that were wandering in from other places – just to see the fish. They bring other kids down and they look in the window and observe the fish swimming.

The hardest part was making sure that other kids didn't do things to (the tank system). The kids got really protective of the fish. And they were ratting each other out really fast. They did not like other people coming in and messing with what they had. They took ownership of the fish.

– Linda Toth, Chesapeake High School, Baltimore County

On students: These kids, they are looking for a way to relate to science and to get into it. And aquaculture incorporates a lot of stuff – building, working with animals. They really enjoy that. It ties together a lot of components that I would never be able to teach in a normal biology class. And I can take kids the extra step and show them how water chemistry relates to fish health and how that relates to the ecology of our area.

On problem-solving: The hardest thing in the beginning of the class is to get them to be independent, independent thinkers and problem solvers. And by the end of the class you almost have trouble pulling them back into instruction.

– Bob Cole, Francis Scott Key High School, Union Bridge

On teaching: Oh my god, it is just the visual hands-on experience. For example, we teach cycles with first-year classes when we are doing the ecology unit. Not only do we talk about the theoretical nitrogen cycle, but I can take them and turn them around and walk them through the nitrogen cycle in the back fish tank. I can say these are the decomposers, this is what is taking the nitrogen and producing ammonia. Here is where these nitrifiers are living.

On results: It really is the best hands-on program that I have ever been involved with as a county teacher. Even the bad stuff is a pretty good experience. It is definitely worth doing.

– Judy Parsons, Wootton High School, Montgomery County

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