Learning By Doing


Value: Engaging actively in classroom and outdoor activities makes the Classroom Aquarium Education Program (CAEP) effective for teachers and students of all ages. It also makes learning much more enjoyable.  Providing a teacher manual ensures that teachers will have a valuable future reference. The trout posters and “WILD About Trout” CD visually aid teachers and students, enhancing learning.

“The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover.  Teaching really means creating situations where discovery can occur.”   Jean Piaget

Main goals of CAEP workshops:

  • Prepare teachers to engage their students in active learning about local wildlife and watersheds
  • Provide teachers with information needed to legally participate in the CAEP (Trout in the Classroom and Steelhead in the Classroom) program.
  • Help teachers learn to assemble and operate a classroom aquarium
  • Provide access to curricula, support materials, and sponsors/coaches
  • Participate in an active workshop at which participants learn by interacting with each other during a variety of engaging activities.

To accomplish some of these goals, participants engage in a variety of activities:

Learning to Look: In pairs, we observe each other. Then we turn our backs and change one feature of our personal appearance. Next we face each other again and try to spot the change in our partner. The point: observation skills are one of the most important science skills. And playing this game before taking a hike or touring a nature center has proven to enhance subsequent observation skills. The point: interacting with each other at the beginning of a workshop is energizing and sets the stage for cooperative learning.

People Sort: We often progress to a game in which 2 participants are chosen to be in Group A and two others are chosen to be in Group B, based on one physical feature that differentiates the groups. Then everyone tries to guess what that feature is.  Whoever guesses correctly gets to lead the next round.  The amazing thing about this game is that there are potentially multiple possible correct answers—something that never happens in a classroom setting.  For example, the differentiating feature chosen might be glasses or no glasses. But these same groups might also have other differentiating features in common like blue jeans or shorts, height, hair color, earrings, etc.  All the responses are validated while the group is trying to arrive at the one chosen by the facilitator.  The student facilitator changes with each round, so the teacher isn’t always the expert in charge. The points: students can be teachers too, games are fun, and observation skills are valuable.

“The purpose of education should not simply be the collection of information, but rather the encouragement of creativity, imagination, and independent thinking.”  Margaret Kelley, Tilden Nature Area Supervisor


Return to the Redd trout life cycle board game-like learning activity and Macro-invertebrate ID challenge: These are migration simulation and sorting games invented by flyfishers and educators to simulate the salmonid life cycle and determine stream/lake health respectively.  Example: Sampling the macro-invertebrates (three photos in a zip lock bag given to a pair of students) can determine creek water purity without chemical kits, when matched with the Isaak Walton League macro-invertebrate chart. The point: better understanding of the trout life cycle and the importance of clean water through engaging challenges.

We follow up the Return to the Redd trout life cycle game with an active physical game Hooks and Ladders (from Aquatic Project Wild) in which we are steelhead migrating to the ocean and back, dodging predators, water pumps and anglers in the process. The point: actually experiencing the hurdles trout face and need to overcome during migration makes it real.

Oh Trout! simulates fish looking for the basics of survival: food, cool water and shelter, in a game played in rounds and graphed to see population fluctuations over time. The point: learn to see patterns by recording population fluctuations during an engaging activity and understand that energy flows through the environment and through life itself.

Image result for oh deer game

We sometimes also play Protect the Redd (a variation of Muskox Maneuvers from Project Wild), in which a rogue trout tries to get in on the action at the Redd while the pair of salmonids tries to defend it (triangle tag). Roles (redd, salmon pair, intruder) change during each round of the game. The point: experience both the competition and cooperation in nature as roles change.

“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”   Chinese proverb

Summary: Most interpreters, teachers and public speakers, despite believing that they offer engaging programs, spend about 75% of their time lecturing. It is critically important to provide engaging, enjoyable, interactive activities in our programs to make sure we aren’t making this common mistake.  This workshop models how to truly engage participants in activities and with each other. Research shows that students who are actively engaged in their learning will enjoy their experience, learn more and remember it longer.

“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.  It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”  Rachel Carson

About Ethan Rotman

Ethan Rotman (Bayareatic) manages and coordinates programs that hatch fish in classrooms for the San Francisco Bay Area. He also chairs the committee that manages these programs throughout the state. Ethan has worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for over 20 years.
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