Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Teaching Youth About Fish Anatomy and Physiology

As we approach the last Youth Fisheries Academy camps for 2011, it’s great to reflect on previous events to see just how much we have all learned and grown. In the past 3 weeks, I have been leading the fish anatomy and physiology (dissection) station. Although a tad messy at times, I have found this learning module to be a fun, effective, and rewarding way to interact with the campers. To give you an idea of exactly what happens at the Youth Fisheries Academies and a feel for the experience of leading fish dissections, I’m going to provide details about what this station entails!

Learning about fish anatomy
During a typical fish anatomy and dissection session, I start by introducing the campers to what the station covers, safety precautions, expectations of being respectful (to each other and the fish) and alternative activities for those who don’t feel comfortable dissecting fish. These alternate activities include a beautifully made two-layer fish dissection puzzle which has all of the internal and external features labeled. Those who do choose to participate (which is almost always everyone) begin by exploring the names and functions of the external and internal anatomy, as well as learning the techniques and processes of dissection. One of my objectives is to make the process as hands-on and mentally engaging as possible, so I ask a lot of questions and encourage the campers to make guesses before I explain the importance of each organ or external feature. After we cover everything from the slime layer to the heart, the campers are split into groups and given fish to dissect on their own--often the most exciting part of the station! While the campers are busy dissecting the fish, I move from group to group providing guidance, pointing out organs, and asking questions of the campers about the organs they’re dissecting.

There is naturally a lot of energy around dissection and it ends up being expressed in many different ways, including intense focus, exclaiming about the "grossness", and rambunctiousness. I try to guide and focus this energy into excitement about the fish and help the campers see dissection as fun, exciting, and interesting! My favorite recurring exclamation from the campers is "That was gross, but SO COOL!". One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of this station was learning how to adjust my style and curriculum to each group I worked with. This was particularly challenging when working with campers who were uncomfortable with the dissection or especially young. It was a huge learning experience for me and I now feel much more confident in my ability to engage diverse groups of campers with different interests, energy levels and developmental ranges. Every group of campers has posed a unique challenge and I have had so much fun developing strategies, encouraging kids to get engaged, and seeing the excitement and interest that the dissections can inspire.

- Mara Healy, STEP Fisheries Technician