The big picture
Every year, 4th and 5th grade students from dozens of schools in Benton County, WA raise salmon from egg to parr as part of a Salmon in the Classroom program. During the Salmon Summit event on April 23-24, over 3,000 students released the fish into the Columbia River.
Scientists from the NWFSC’s Pasco Research Station hosted an interactive station during this event, where they inserted Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags into the biggest fish prior to their release. These tags allow the students participating in the Salmon in the Classroom Program to track the progress of their salmon’s downstream migration out to sea.
Why we get involved
The Salmon in the Classroom Program and culminating event at Salmon Summit offer unique learning experiences for both the students and teachers. The students are taught a general curriculum on salmon life history and Northwest issues facing salmon by their teachers, and also get a chance to work with Pasco Research Station scientists in class and learn first-hand about NOAA’s research on PIT-tagging and radio-tracking.
Fisheries biologist Matt Nesbit has been working with many of the same teachers for the past 5 years, and helping educate students about thousands-- and sometimes hundreds of thousands-- of salmon swimming up the Columbia River within just a few miles of their homes, is one of the main reasons he keeps coming back.
“In the classroom, we help with the dissection of an adult male and female salmon, then they visit our station at the Salmon Summit and watch the salmon that they raised from eggs get PIT-tagged and tracked downriver. This brings their salmon education for the year full circle,” Nesbit says.
“I doubt any other students in the nation have the level of salmon understanding that the students of Benton County have after these curriculum, presentations, and experiences.”
Benjamin Sandford, a mathematical statistician at Pasco Research Station, says he gets involved in this event because it’s a chance for him to talk to students about the “wonderful creatures” of salmon, a species he’s been studying for over 30 years, and also to raise awareness of the important and interesting research that we do at NOAA.
Besides sharing career development opportunities, Sandford trusts that the cool science he shares with children will help create informed, wise citizens for our society.
“We need bright young minds and bodies prepared to continue the work in the future, which is a challenge in our ever-increasing non-outdoor life. And, as more informed citizens, the choices they make will be important to ensure that this work is recognized and supported,” says Sandford.
What makes this effort worth it
Ultimately, the scientists hope that the time they spend in (and out) of the classroom helps students and teachers gain a better understanding NOAA’s research on salmon in the Columbia Basin and the Pacific Northwest as a whole—what we do, how we do it, and why it’s beneficial to this iconic species to which we’re all interconnected.
And the scientists get a little something out of the experience themselves.
Jesse Lamb, a fisheries biologist at the Pasco Research Station, says that seeing the excitement of kids when witnessing science in action makes the outreach effort worthwhile.
Sandford adds, “It's very rewarding to me personally to capture, photographically, both the excitement of the kids and also the skills in salmon biology and technology and teaching that my colleagues exhibit.
“The smiles and excitement shown by the students, either from talking to us about the salmon they are raising, asking questions during our classroom presentation, getting hands on during the salmon dissection or helping us PIT tag their fish at the Salmon Summit, it is almost indescribable,” Nesbit says.
“We feel a great sense of service to the younger generations. In the few hours we share with these students, we are able to give them enough interesting information that we are able to pique their interest in the salmon that surround them. Our hope is that this interest will last a lifetime.”