by Derek Haider
I teach 7th grade Biology at Evanston (WY) Middle School (EMS). I have always found the life sciences fascinating, and with my enthusiasm for Wyoming and its wildlife, I embarked on a teaching career nine years ago.
After a few years of teaching, I found that students were disenfranchised with school. It felt like I was “telling about science” instead of teaching science. Things needed to change. I knew that I could be a better teacher, but wanted to help students feel like they were actively “doing science” instead of just hearing lessons or reading about science.
In the spring of 2010, I was on a walk with my wife and children. We love to stroll along the Bear River that runs through town, and as we walked, I was thinking how lucky we are to have such breathtaking scenery at our disposal. My younger sons scurried after frogs that hopped along the walkway, while my wife and I listened to the gentle churn of the springtime rapids. Then it hit me: My students need to reconnect with nature! They have plenty of opportunities to connect to technology, but they needed opportunities to “unplug from technology” and connect to what Wyoming is all about. Wyoming’s wildlife makes that possible!
As a Wyoming native and avid outdoorsman, I knew that our state provided some of the most awesome (real-life) science in the world. The key was to get my students outside! They needed to get beyond the four walls of my humble classroom, and smell the fresh air, feel the cool Wyoming breeze, and taste the goodness of nature (both literally and figuratively).
I contacted our local chapter of Trout Unlimited and discussed my classroom concerns--but more importantly, I wanted to know if they could help me “reconnect” my students. I was greeted warmly and welcomed in to their local chapter meeting. They explained an exciting new opportunity where classroom students could “adopt trout.” The program sounded promising, and I was excited to learn more. There were several meetings with our district administration and Trout Unlimited professionals, and by the next fall, Evanston Middle School was participating in the “Adopt-A-Trout” program.
I now find myself in the third year of the “Adopt-A-Trout” program and couldn’t be happier. The students at EMS have become scientists. No more telling about science; classes are actively engaged in scientific questions and data analysis. There is a sense of wonder and awe with the program. Students are excited to see what has happened to “their” fish. The students can’t wait to get to the water! They’re eager to conduct a chemical analysis, which determines water quality because after all, they want what’s best for “their” fish! We are digging into previous years' data, and if you can believe it, students are asking questions! Inquiry is through the roof! When it comes to Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, they want to know how, why, and when. It’s awesome!
I have yet to see anything that has created more of a “buzz” in my students. The great thing is, with more excitement comes more interest. With more interest comes greater connection. With greater connection comes a sense of pride and citizenship. With this pride and citizenship my students are prepared to make a difference. Isn’t that the ultimate goal for a teacher? What a difference “Adopt-A-Trout” has made in Evanston!