Oct. 22 2004
Salmon in the Classroom
Salmon in the Classroom is a project undertaken by the National Park Service to teach children about the endangered Spring Chinook salmon (specifically) and elements of species endangerment (in general). There are four aquariums running in the Walla Walla program, at Edison Elementary, John Sager Middle School , Walla Walla High School , and the Children's Museum of Walla Walla . The main goal of the internship is to coordinate with the teachers or supervisors who sponsor the program, working activities that teach about salmon into their regular curriculum. The program focuses on three main points about salmon: that they are endangered and why, that they are important to us and why, and ways that humans can help them recover healthy populations. An additional goal of the program in general is to make the knowledge of the salmon's condition known to more teachers in the state, and for them to also work some salmon focused activities into their curricula.
As (hopefully unbiased) information about endangered salmon is taught in schools, the information should circulate more readily than it does now. The knowledge that salmon are absolutely essential to a healthy northwestern ecosystem may encourage residents to act more responsibly towards them (e.g. supporting modification or removal of dams, restriction of pollutant runoff, defense of riparian zones, etc.). In addition, student care of the aquariums helps to teach responsibility towards other living things and creates an emotional attachment between students and an important element of the environment. Ideally this will help build heightened awareness and stewardship of the environment in future generations of northwesterners.
Currently, my awareness has been raised to many things related to this project. When I was first introduced to the project, it blew my mind how complex it had been for the Park Service to obtain permission to use Spring Chinook eggs in the aquariums. They had to convince multiple organizations that this was a valuable enough endeavor to allow use of an endangered species. It will be a valuable insight to me in future projects that such seemingly simple tasks are actually time consuming and difficult. In addition, I am learning to work in a situation without a supervisor dedicated to me exclusively. I had not realized at the beginning of the internship how much effort it would take to coordinate meeting times, or that it was really up to me to figure out what I need to do and when. It is quite a departure from other internships that I have had where I worked in the office with my supervisor and spent 80% of my time with her in the field. I feel that I am becoming more able to be self supervised and motivated, which I had not realized was quite as difficult as it has turned out to be. Finally, I am learning about the organizational and innovational skills necessary to be a (hopefully successful and entertaining) educator. One thing related to this that I am a little worried about is that I may try to instill my own views in the children that I present to, which is not fair to them.
The main problems that I have encountered so far are time, communication, and organization. Time and communication are linked problems in this internship experience. Contacting people is difficult in that busy people are also busy when it comes to returning e-mails and coordinating times to meet. I am frustrated that I still haven't met two people that I need to work with and have met one only in passing. This requires coordinating at least three people's schedules, which is surprisingly difficult. In addition, I am unsure as to how persistent to be. For example, how soon is too soon to send a follow up e-mail to people who have not responded? Organizational problems are mostly related to the teaching materials available to me – only that they are very disorganized and difficult to organize. The only other organizational issue that I have encountered is deciding how to present material, but that was fairly easy to work through using discussions on learning styles with friends.
Currently I am spending roughly three hours per week on this internship. At the very beginning it was spent mostly meeting with people, and now I am working primarily on figuring out a kind of lesson plan, working with the teaching materials available, and trying to come up with or adapt activities so they are more appropriate to the classroom situations and intended learning experience. My main suggestion to people in the future (including myself) is not to view this class as something that will be easy – just because it is one credit does not mean that it requires only a little work. Something else that would have helped me at the beginning is to know that you may have to push a little to get the things done that need to be done.