First graders gone fishin'There probably aren’t many places where kids get an opportunity to learn math and science by fishing, but in the land of 10,000 lakes it makes sense.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
There probably aren’t many places where kids get an opportunity to learn math and science by fishing, but in the land of 10,000 lakes it makes sense. So, in 2009, Mary Jo Taintor, first-grade teacher at Kelley Elementary School in Silver Bay, applied for an incentive fishing package from the Department of Natural Resources Minn Aqua-Pay it Forward program. Later that year, her classroom of eager young anglers found out their application had been accepted.
According to the DNR website: “This national award-winning angling and aquatic education curriculum consists of 39 complete lessons as well as scores of other useful features and appendices.”
Educators from all over the state attended workshops to learn to use the curriculum. Taintor was among them. Afterward, when information about the fishing packages came across her school e-mail, Taintor decided to apply.
“My response was to write a few paragraphs regarding why we needed fishing gear,” said Taintor in an e-mail to the News-Chronicle. “The package included 24 rod and reel combos, a tackle box, tackle and life jackets.
“I applied because we are an EIC (Environment Integrated into the Curriculum) School, and I thought fishing and water safety/care would be beneficial to students living here on the North Shore,” she said.
In all, the DNR website reported that it awarded 976 rods and reels through the Pay it Forward program that year. Other recipients included scout troops and 4H groups.
This year’s outing was the fifth of its kind for Taintor and her fishing buddies. They start by learning water safety in their classroom at school, and on the day of the field trip they practice angling, math skills and fish identification.
Some years she has made two trips with her class — fall and spring — and she has expanded the curriculum to include teaching students about digital photography.
Over the last few years, her fishing trips have garnered the attention of others in the community. Parents and grandparents sometimes accompany the group, and a couple of years ago she received a special invitation from another local resident.
“The first two years I took the first-graders fishing at Lax Lake. The last two years, Larry has offered his pond,” said Taintor, referring to Larry Schanno, a family friend of one of her former students.
Schanno dug the pond about four years ago, he said. He keeps it stocked with fish and has made it a place where residents of the Veterans Home in Silver Bay can go out for a day of fishing. There are ramps to make the pond accessible by wheelchair and other places where those with walkers can steady themselves while casting a line into the water.
Scahnno said he heard about the kids and their fishing trips, but that they weren’t catching many fish out on the lake, so he invited them to come to the pond.
“It’s quite a blast,” said Shanno with a laugh. “I’m working with both ends of the spectrum here: On one end, these older guys get to do something they never thought they’d do again, and on the other end, the kids are able to learn something they can do for the rest of their lives.”
Schanno said he enjoys the visits from the kids. “The joy of it is just seeing them have so much fun,” he said.
This year, the first-grade fishing party included 22 children and 18 adult guests. Students caught 27 brook and rainbow trout, most of which were released back into the pond. The fish that weren’t likely to survive were put in a cooler to be cleaned and given to the Vets’ Home for a fish fry, said Taintor.
The day of fishing at the pond has been popular with her students and other students, too. When asked if they’d like to go fishing again in the spring for their math unit on weight, Taintor reported, “The resounding answer was ‘yes!’ ” and one high school student asked if he could go along to test his homemade flies.
In all the fun, however, there is a lot of learning going on. Asked if she finds that students learn more from hands-on opportunities like this, Taintor replied, “The students do learn better from these activities because they have more purpose and meaning than just using a text book. The activity also encourages happy feelings about learning. Furthermore, the outing gives parents and grandparents time with their children and grandchildren.”
Next time there’s a “gone fishing” sign on the door of Ms. Taintor’s first grade at Kelley Elementary school, don’t worry. They’re not playing hooky. They’re just in their outdoor classroom.