When you think of next-generation science standards, what do you envision? Fourth grade elementary school children in the Puyallup School District have been able to explore the future in science through the Puyallup Historic Fish Hatchery with a community of people who have worked together in concert to bring outdoor fish science to life. For students in Puyallup, a field trip to the local hatchery teaches them STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – outdoors or FieldSTEM, which enriches student understanding of real world STEM. This project offers a well-rounded STEM plan to help students achieve the Next Generation Science Standards.

Pat Otto with Stephanie Haggele
Pat and Stephanie working towards a common goal of teaching students FieldSTEM. Photo credit: Patty Carter

This curriculum for the Fish Hatchery Field Experience was developed by Pacific Education Institute’s (PEI) Education Manager, Pat Otto, with Puyallup School District Science lead, Stephanie Haegele. Stephanie and Pat had worked on other field experiences for the District for fifth and sixth grade with WSU Extension as a partner. The Historic Fish Hatchery wanted to offer a field experience for the district’s fourth grade students and requested that Stephanie and Pat develop that project.

Patty Carter is the founding director of the Puyallup Historical Hatchery Foundation (PHHF) and she said, “I spoke highly of Pat Otto yesterday at the EECOI end of year meeting as she was key in 2015 to putting the program together with material and training.” She added, “It was a fun collaboration, even us making the beautiful outdoor signs for the learning stations utilizing the information Pat and the group provided. And it came together quickly with the first classes being held in October 2016! Nine hundred students last year and 1,200 students this year!” The Environmental Education Community of Interest (EECOI) is a part of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative.

Puyallup Hatchery
Volunteers from the Historic Fish Hatchery Foundation. Photo credit: Patty Carter

Chris Towe, the Environmental Education Program Manager at Pierce Conservation District, also provided resources and his staff takes care of one of the outdoor learning stations that the students pass through to learn and create journals. One of the stations is creatively named “Puyallup Historic Fish Hatchery a Project WILD Aquatic Lesson.” Volunteers from the Historic Fish Hatchery Foundation lead students through other Puyallup Historic Fish Hatchery and the spawning salmon in the creek.

“The students trekked up and down the trails, pointing out salmon in Clarks Creek as they spotted fish splashing about. The salmon were making their return to the creek to spawn, leaving their eggs in the gravel bottom to start a new chapter in the life cycle of this iconic species. And the students experienced it firsthand and up close,” said Allan Warren, Pierce Conservation District, Communications & Development Manager.

Puyallup Hatchery
Puyallup School District students happy to learn at the hatchery. Photo credit: Patty Carter

Of course, this program thrives with district leadership such as Cari Ake, the Director of Instructional Leadership; Stephanie Haegele, a sixth grade math and science teacher; and Teena VanBlaricom, the Science Resource Center Coordinator at Puyallup School District. Stephanie and Pat developed the curriculum with input from both the hatchery and Pierce Conservation District. The curriculum hosts a variety of lessons on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Thirty teachers were trained in August 2016 and then taught the curriculum. By engaging students in lessons before and after the field experience to the Puyallup Hatchery site, the field trip is richer. During the whole experience students create journals demonstrating their accomplishment of the Next Generation Science Standards.

The amazing partnerships created a long-lasting next generation science outdoor lab for students that they will not soon forget. In this program, students get to develop and use models, carry out an investigation, interpret data, construct argument/explanations, and obtain, evaluate and communicate. This field experience gives the students the chance to touch, feel, see, hear and smell all in one day. The best part is that students become salmon explorers, which in turn generates next generation citizen scientists for our Puyallup watershed.

The 2017 Pierce County Conservation District’s Educator of the Year Award goes to the partnership that created this program at the Puyallup Historic Fish Hatchery.