Educator Spotlight: Raising Trout in the Classroom

Julie Stanley secured a grant from Trout in the Classroom for a year-long project that provided her sixth-graders the opportunity to observe fish growth and become involved in the protection of trout populations and habitats. Students also gained hands-on experience with water-quality testing and tank maintenance.

Julie Stanley is a sixth-grade science teacher at Clifton Middle School in Covington, Virginia. Photo by Michael Higgins

What inspired you to begin raising trout in your classroom?

Trout are native to our community. My students had background knowledge about trout through fishing for sport and food. Many had visited one or more of the surrounding fish hatcheries and observed varying stages of growth in trout, but they had never watched the progression of the life stages. I recognized the opportunity to engage my students in observing the development stages of the trout, testing water quality, studying what constitutes a healthy trout habitat, and determining how human actions affect local habitats.

In Julie’s classroom’s water chemistry testing area, students measured and logged water temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite concentrations in the trout tank. Photo by Julie Stanley

How did you connect this locally-focused project to related issues at the regional and global level?

I first presented local maps and let the students identify and describe good trout habitats in our area. They realized trout habitat is plentiful where we live. Next, students evaluated maps of Virginia and were amazed that trout can live in our area but not in other areas where the population is larger and the climate is a little warmer. A national map revealed that trout populations are primarily located in mountainous regions. 

The students quickly noticed on a world map that there are no trout populations near the Equator; they knew it was because of the warm temperatures. The world map also showed where the species once thrived but now no longer exists, bringing to light the problem of dwindling trout habitats.   

Could you share how your students investigated potential release sites for the trout they raised?

Students looked at a map of our county and immediately identified areas where they knew trout currently live. They traced these areas to the sources of the creeks, streams, and rivers to ensure that the areas were upstream of, or free of contamination from, our local paper manufacturing facility. The discussion then narrowed to focus on two release site choices. We talked about why these sites were good options and how we can protect these habitats and keep them healthy.

Students perform research on potential release sites for the classroom trout. Photo by Julie Stanley

How did you help your students explore the advantages and drawbacks of developing waterways for use by humans versus conserving them for wildlife?

Initially, most students favored preserving all the habitats with the idea that economic or residential development could take place “somewhere else.” We reviewed a case study on whether to develop the Columbia River for economic gain or preserve the habitat for the salmon population. We applied the study to our local trout populations with consideration given to the paper manufacturing facility, which is the primary employer in our community.

Students learned environmental decisions are not always easy and that compromise is often the best approach. Even though they wanted the fish and other animals to have healthy habitats, they realized that manufacturing and economic development are sometimes necessary. Now students are more aware of the need to critically analyze potential construction projects and look for alternatives and compromises that satisfy the needs of both human and animal populations.

Educators: Download full lesson plan.

How did you encourage your students to take action to protect trout in your region?

I enjoyed seeing the concern students showed for our classroom fish. They genuinely cared and wanted to choose a suitable environment in which to release our fish. I could only smile as I watched the discussion transition from social and recreational concerns about the fish to discussions of pollution, avoidance of predators and diseases, water temperature, and abundance of food.

The students drew on background knowledge about how keeping the surrounding environment clean protects watersheds and fish habitat. After brainstorming ways to keep the habitat clean, students had an in-depth discussion about recreational river use and the lack of trash cans at public river access points. The discussion led to questions about why the cans were not already there, who would be responsible for emptying them, etc. I wanted students to realize that despite their youth, there are actions they can take to protect our local trout habitats.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.


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