Fish to Schools, A Third Grade Reflection

With so many programs already dedicated to teaching students about fish biology and lifecycle, The Sitka Conservation Society chose to take a different angle. We wanted to answer the question, "How did fish end up on our dinner plate?" Modeled after the Farm to School program, we developed a series of interactive lessons to illuminate the steps fish take from stream to plate. We invited a number community members and organizational partners into the classroom to share their part of the story.

We began with third graders in early October by teaching students about fishing methods. We answered the question, "How are fish caught?" Through a number of silly, hands-on activities, students learned the differences between commercial, sport, and traditional harvesting methods. To reinforce commercial methods, local fishermen were invited to give presentations on their chosen method(s). One fisherman father, Dan Falvey, went so far as to have students set a longline with baited hooks (magnets). After a good soak, students landed their catch… of paperclips!

Fishing, a familiar pastime for many of the students, was well understood. But less known was what to do with them next. Students were invited on a tour of Sitka Sound Seafoods, a local seafood processor, where they saw a boat unload fish, a halibut fillet demonstration, shrimp, crab, and sea cucumbers processed and packaged. Back in the classroom, Alaska Native Tom Gamble, took students through the process of gutting, filleting, and preserving the catch. He shared native traditions and emphasized respect for the salmon throughout the entire process for feeding him and his family.

Next in line was cooking, a final and very important step in the journey from stream to plate. Students gathered around wisps of steam as they watched Alaska Native, Charlie Skukla Jr., place fire-hot rocks into a traditional bentwood box. In less than minute the water began to boil chunks of local fish. Boiled fish couldn't be simpler and the students loved it. One class got to work with Chef Colette Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Together students created delectable tastes of sesame salmon and toasted rockfish. Paired with cooking, we taught students why fish is good for their bodies. They all seemed to know that seafood was good for them but few could articulate why. Students learned a simple mantra--that "fish are healthy for our head, heart, and make us happy." This really stuck; over 70% of participating students increased their health knowledge after the program.

The underlying thread that connected all of these steps was conservation. After playing a game to demonstrate a salmon food web, students learned how fish are connected to the livelihood of other plants, animals, and habitats. They learned that salmon feed the Tongass, not because the forest has teeth but because it absorbs all the nutrients of the salmon carcasses that act as a fertilizer. Students were also asked to consider what would happen if people overfished. Along with extreme answers like, "We would die," were other answers like, "Other animals need fish to survive," and "They won't be able to reproduce." It is our hope at SCS that students feel more connected to the food they eat and that they now know it is our responsibility to protect and care for the habitat and waterways that are home to these incredible animals. --Dec. 2011[gallery link="file" orderby="post_date"]


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