Daybreak 5th graders touch beating fish hearts

March 2, 2017 Joe Vajgrt

Daybreak 5th graders tough beating fish hearts

March 2, 2017
Thank you to Katie Woollven, the Salmon in the Classroom coordinator at Columbia Springs, for contributing to this story

“Gross, but AWESOME!” That's how students usually describe the fish dissections from the Salmon in the Classroom (SITC) program, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the students in Mike Walsh’s fifth grade science class at Daybreak Middle School got to see and touch not one, but TWO beating fish hearts, and we’ve got the video to prove it:

According to Walsh, the SITC program fits perfectly into Washington State’s learning standards for science, also known nationally as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). “The Salmon in the Classroom projects provide opportunities for our kids to learn about living systems as well as environments,” Walsh said. “The kids love the tactile, hands-on experience, even if the dissections gross them out a little bit.” 

Walsh’s students are learning about environmental stewardship by raising salmon throughout the school year. Sponsored by Columbia Springs and Clark Public Utilities, the SITC program has been providing hands-on education for students throughout Clark County since 1991. 

The SITC program gives students the opportunity to learn about local habitats, the interrelationships between species within their local watersheds, and the importance of keeping our environment healthy and clean. Multiple lesson plans around this program allow students to interact with material for the full year.

During the dissection portion of the project, students' first challenge is to remove structures that the fish uses for movement, protection, breathing, and sensing. Students then look at those structures under a microscope. Students look for evidence that will help them answer all sorts of questions, such as: Do salmon have taste buds? Do they have teeth? Do they have eyelids? Do the fins have bones? What color are the gills? Why are they shaped that way?

When the dissection shifts to focus on internal anatomy, students continue to lead the investigation. Students perform the main incision and identify all the internal organs before completing additional challenges.  

The first challenge is to identify the two chambers of the fish's heart. They answer the questions: Which is the tough, muscular ventricle, and which is the darker-colored atrium? Pacemaker cells can be found near the atrium. If stimulated, these pacemaker cells can make a fish's heart beat long after it's dead. This is a test of patience - students must do the incision carefully and correctly, not damage the heart, keep the heart inside the fish's body, correctly identify the chambers, and gently touch the atrium without damaging it. It is a memorable experience for those students who see a beating heart.

Salmonid dissections are a full-sensory experience, which you can see from these reflections from a student in Walsh's class:

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