Engaging Students in Learning

Perkins is always seeking new ways to engage our students in learning and encourage them to pursue new passions. Our education team incorporates many different learning options for students, and work steadily to reach every single student. Some of our students learn best by doing and others by observing. Learning is different for every student. For our students, successful learning occurs when they invest in a task.  Wendy Rock is well aware of this phenomenon and uses the fish program to teach math, science, problem-solving, and ELA on campus.

The fish program began in the summer of 2014 with one outdoor tank. Today, we have over 20 tanks on campus. Perkins hosted the International Fancy Guppy Association’s show in July. Several of our students entered fish in the show and placed.

“This program is kid driven, and kid focused,” Wendy said. “By nature of caring for the tank, we naturally teach about science and math. Teachers also use the fish as writing prompts; thereby, incorporating ELA. There are also several opportunities to teach cooperation and compassion.”

For example, a classroom wished to decorate a tank. To start, they were given a budget. They then had to work together to decide how many fish to buy, what decorations they wanted, where to put the tank, and how to best spend their money. “This taught math skills, compromise, and cooperation,” Wendy explained.

Colleen, a fifth-grade teacher, uses the fish tank as a way to teach students how to read an analog clock. Part of maintaining a healthy tank includes testing the water weekly which includes timing the chemical reactions. “Students aren’t interested in doing a worksheet with clock pictures in the fifth grade, but they are motivated by a real world use,” Wendy explained.

The fish project is also a useful tool in occupational therapy work. Cynthia Greene, OTR/L had two young men working with her last year, and both experienced growth. “Both students became more independent in their selected projects as time went by, no longer needing the typed up instructions,” Cindy explained. “They also demonstrated growth in their problem-solving skills.  They were eager to participate each week, and felt responsible for the fish,” she said. “The one-on-one time with each of them was helpful in building my rapport with them.”

Many teachers and therapists had the same reaction. One therapist noted a young man refused to talk. Once they started working on the fish tank together, he came out of his shell and began to share.

Along with the many other benefits of keeping fish in a classroom, Wendy noted that it has also taught students to be less anxious. “If a beaker gets dropped or water gets spilled, no big deal, we just mop it up,” she said. “For students who tend to catastrophize, this is a great way to show them what is worth getting upset over, and what isn’t.”

According to Wendy, students don’t see working with fish as “school”. Many of our students have had negative experiences in an academic setting, and want to disengage from learning. It is important that students connect what they are learning with the real world. For example, it is important that students do the work in the tank correctly because it is vital to the health of the fish.

To learn more about the New England Fancy Guppy Association click here. To learn more about Perkins guppy program, and our search for a purple fish click here.