KIDS: TIC Polk Elementary School Teacher Journal

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Trout in the Classroom - Polk Elementary School
Polk Elementary School TIC Teacher Journal
{Cartoon Drawing of a Teacher with a Fish Skeleton}
Jessica Sarandrea's Trout in the Classroom Journal
{Picture of Classroom Teacher Mrs. Jessica Sarandrea}
Classroom Teacher Mrs. Jessica Sarandrea
Each day, I begin to wonder where my sanity was when I decided to do this program.  At the time, it was exciting and new, but each day brings a new challenge and it gets a bit scarier.  I am mostly afraid of disappointing my students and causing this project to fail.  However, I do feel that it is all so worth it.
Every day, the students come in, excited to check out the tank and look for any new developments. At first, it was looking for the white eggs. Without fail, there would be one of the students yelling, “White egg!  There’s a white egg in the tank!” at the start of the day. That would lead to all of the students gathering around to check out the little peek hole for the white egg.  Inevitably, there wasn’t always one. We have only had to remove two white eggs so far.
Now, the checking the tank has grown even more exciting. We have had two eggs hatch already, so every day we are now checking to see if any more have hatched.  We have had discussions on when it is acceptable to be checking as well as how to check safely so that nobody will be hurt.  The students are all so worried about the trout.

I have set up calendars in the classroom for the students to log data on. Right now, I have them checking the temperature and logging it daily. They have also started to test the water once a week as well as change the water once a week. This is more to practice than anything at this point.  The other job the students have is to add stresszyme on Wednesdays.  This is a type of bacteria that helps break down the “bad stuff” in the tank.

I am excited about what this project has yet to bring. The excitement and the activity level both in and out of the classroom has been amazing!  Each new day does bring a new challenge, but it also helps to put learning back into perspective for both myself and my students!!
Very Disappointed
 I have hit a major problem with the trout.  Up until recently, the trout have been thriving.  However, at the end of last week, the students noticed a spike in the ammonia and pH levels.  Not sure what to do, I consulted with my trout mentors who gave me a few ideas.  I did what I could within the confines of school and then headed home for the weekend.
 I came in on Monday to find that we had lost 16 fish.  This wasn’t a huge number in relation to the number of fish we had originally.  However, pH levels were still high.  Ammonia was starting to go down.  We did another 5 gallon water change and hoped for the best.  I again emailed my trout mentors and was told that I could purchase some pH decrease and replace the ammo carb.  I wish I had known about this before the school day started. 

 After school on Monday, I headed out to the pet store to get the necessary materials and returned to school at about 6:00 in hopes of fixing the tank problems.  I walked in, uncovered the tank, and found massive amounts of fish dead.  When I say massive, I mean more than half of the trout were gone.  I used the suction to remove the dead fish from the tank and placed a frantic call to the trout mentors.  After much discussion of what we have already done in the class, my mentor explained to me that there was little else to be done.  He did not know why we were losing so many fish.  I did what I could and headed home about an hour and a half later.
 Upon arriving to school Tuesday, I found many more fish that were dead.  One of my students came to the class to help out – I was disappointed beyond belief and too frustrated to deal with it.  I went to greet my students in the café and give them the bad news.  I found myself holding back tears.  Was I really crying over a couple of dead fish?
 When I finally started to think about it, I realized it wasn’t the dead fish I was mourning.  I was mourning for my students.  All of the hard work and effort that they put into this tank and trying to get it to succeed only to be destroyed in a few days.  The worst part was that I had no answers for them because nobody had answers for me.  I felt like a failure as a teacher.
 Once we got to the classroom, reality really set in for the students.  They saw that we had very few fish left, and those that were there were barely moving.  What would happen next?  All of a sudden, the ideas started flowing.  Students were raising their hands, full of ideas why this could have happened, or ideas on how to fix the problems we were having.  The tears for me started to disappear.  I realized that as horrible as this was, a lot of the program truly is a learning experience, as much for me as for my students.
 I was able to foster in them, through the program, the ability to reason through a problem and look for possible solutions.  As disappointed and upset as they were, the students were still able to ask why and find reasons.  That, for me, was amazing.  The ideas just continued to flow.
 While we may never know what happened to our fish or how to fix it, we know, as a class, that we are strong enough to try to make sense of the problem and reason through it.  THAT is a true learning experience.
 As an aside, we have now moved all of the living fish (about 30) back into the egg net.  We are feeding them there and hoping that they will grow strong enough to be able to put back in the big tank.  As a last resort, there are other fish that we can “adopt” and welcome into our tank once we have our levels all fixed.  Upon our last consultation with the trout mentors, some believe that all of this occurred due to the lack of school we have had this year.  Due to the snow days, there was not a whole lot of consistency in feeding and caring for the trout.  This is not something that could have been predicted, nor could it have been prevented.  We are all learning, grieving, and moving on.  My hope is that we have enough trout to each have one to release come April.  If that happens, I will feel successful in this project.
Thoughts on How I Got Started with TIC 
Some may ask how it is I got involved in the TIC program.  It really is an interesting story.  Our library offers programs over the summer, and the TIC program was one of them.  I generally bring my daughters to all of the programs, but my oldest daughter felt very strongly that my husband should come along with us on this particular morning.
We sat in the library and listened to the presentation by one of the head people.  I was interested, but a bit concerned about the money aspect of the program.  My husband, however, would not let that stop him.  He stayed after the presentation to ask some questions and get some ideas rolling.  As we have all heard before, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, and boy did my husband have a will!
Over the summer, I found a group willing to help me fund the program and approached my principal with the idea.  Still unsure of it all myself, my husband kept telling me, “It will be fun!”  After many meetings, it was decided I could have the program in my class and the board of education was going to fund it for me!  I was astonished!!
Then, came all the unknowns.  I was stepping out of my comfort zone and wasn’t sure that I liked it!  It was a long time since I had to really learn about how to do something while trying to keep these fish alive!
After all is said and done, I have to say that I am glad that my husband pushed me into doing this program.  It has brought a sense of community and caring to my classroom that I am not sure would have existed otherwise.  My students have learned to care for these fish, but at the same time, they have learned to care for others.  They have learned that patience does really pay off, and sometimes, the best things in life are worth waiting for. 
I hope that they will remember their fifth grade experience as one that was full of unknowns – not knowing what to expect, what to do, or how to deal with it.  In the end though, I hope they realize that TEAMWORK helped us all get through those unknowns!  I look forward to doing this program again next year!!
Everything I need to know about life, I learned from my fifth graders and some fish!
  • Responsibility is a big word and a lot of work!
  • Patience pays off!
  • Watch out for the bullies in life – they need a time out!
  • The strong survive!
  • Appreciate the differences we all have!
  • Never give up!
  • When you expect great things, you get great things!
  • Learning can be fun!
  • I am capable of more than I thought!
  • When bad things happen, try to find out why!
  • Life is too short to be unhappy or upset!
  • Learning happens in all ways!
  • Sometimes, you just have to jump in!
  • Stepping out of your “safety zone” is scary, but oh so rewarding!
  • Stick together – it makes it harder for the bullies to get at you!
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Content Last Modified on 4/14/2011 1:57:31 PM