DEMAREST - A science teacher at Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest is bringing nature to the classroom, giving students a hands-on approach to learning about the importance of coldwater conservation.
Biology and Life Science teacher Steve Ryan introduced the "Trout in the Classroom" project to his Life Science class on Oct. 26. Trout in the Classroom is a science-based project that involves students raising brook trout from birth, and will run in Ryan's classroom until May.
As the brook trout grow from eggs to fingerlings, students will learn about how important clean and cold water is for the brook trout as well as other organisms. In May, the students will take the trout to Stephens State Park in Warren County, and release the trout in the Musconetcong River.
"It inspires students to be active learners," said high school Principal Bruce Sabatini.
In addition to teaching students about the importance of clean and cold water, Ryan will use the project to aid in his lessons about ecology, water quality, meiosis and mitosis, pH levels and the anatomy of fish.
He plans on using this project with three of his freshman classes - two biology classes and a life science class.
Since this project can be applied to any level of biology, Ryan will also have his Advanced Placement biology class follow the project.
"It parallels so many different things we talk about," special education teacher Christopher Eftychiou said. Eftychiou brought the Trout in the Classroom project to NVD - he fly fishes for trout and belongs to Trout Unlimited.
He and Linda Citro aided Ryan in the first Trout in the Classroom lesson.
Students had the opportunity to take a look at the 300 trout eggs in a hatching basket situated at the top of a coldwater tank.
The students were able to see the eyes of the trout and compared the trout eggs in the hatching basket to unfertilized trout in a petri dish.
The temperature of the tank is controlled by a cooler, insuring the water stays 51 degrees. The tank is also covered in Styrofoam to protect the trout from light. In nature, trout tend to gravitate to the bottom of the river, where it is shaded. Liquid bacteria drops are going to be put in the tank to eat the trout waste. Only 5 percent of trout survive to one-year-old in the wild.
"Imagine if only 5 percent of the human population lived," said Eftychiou, giving the students some food for thought.
Eftychiou said he hopes to beat the odds of nature, though one thing the controlled setting might not be able to prevent is the trout eating one another.
"It's really a Darwinian process," said Ryan.
After students observed the eggs in the hatching basket, they were asked to fill out a chart, brainstorming the differences between trout in nature and in the classroom with regards to limited light, cold water, oxygen, clean water, pH levels at 6.5-7.5, food and predators. They posted what they came up with on a smart board and Eftychiou and Ryan reviewed and discussed the answers with the class.
One student asked if the class should expect to see mutations. Eftychiou said while mutations are not necessarily good for the trout, he hopes to see mutations so the students can tie the trout mutations into their lessons about genetics. He added that the information that came with the trout said mutations do occur and it is not uncommon for trout to have two heads.
Although it was only the first Trout in the Classroom lesson, students were already excited and eager to learn more.
"I learned that in order for trout to live in a classroom, we have to recreate nature," said Sam, 15. He added that he is looking forward to see the trout hatch.
"I know it's possible to mimic nature and I'm excited to see a possible mutation," said Jenny, 14.
"Mr. Ryan and Mr. Eftychiou's innovative methods are truly inspirational to our students," said Sabatini. "Rather than just read from a text or listen to a lecture it allows students to take action."