Columbia FWCO Goes Back to High School
BY AMBER MASTERS, COLUMBIA FWCO
Earlier this winter, Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) fisheries technicians Amber Masters, Sarah Ettinger-Dietzel, Ja'var Henry and Cal Yonce brought a bit of the Missouri River to Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. Hickman Biology Club member Molly Vornholt, club president Kyle Perry and biology teacher Dan Miller invited the Columbia FWCO to present at one of their monthly, after-school Biology Club meetings. Rather than lecture a group of teenagers who had been in classrooms all day, the Columbia FWCO employees decided to assemble an assortment of hands-on activities in order to get the students actively involved and hopefully spark a lifelong interest in fisheries biology.
Amber delivered a short presentation on the Columbia FWCO and a brief overview of our current projects, sharing pictures of our various adventures hanging out with Missouri River’s inhabitants. Although condensed, the presentation included the importance of conservation, information on career-paths and a few pointers on how to get involved with fisheries, volunteering.
After the presentation, technicians directed students to different stations set up around the classroom. Sarah decorated one of the back tables with a variety of bottles and jars containing preserved specimens. Among the fishes present were interesting Missouri River species such as Longnose Gar, Chestnut Lamprey, a variety of uniquely-patterned darters and tiny, baby Black Bullheads. In addition, students saw small versions of the infamous Missouri River invader the Silver Carp and potential future problem-causers such as Round Gobies and the fearsome Snakehead. Students were also given the opportunity to pick through jars full of small, unknown species in a challenging attempt to identify some of the diminutive and uncharacteristic young fishes, most less than two inches in length.
The highlight of the hour, however, was the dissection. Thanks to field crews’ efforts the previous week, the techs had aces in their pockets in the form of three Shovelnose sturgeon and two Blue catfish. For many of the students, it was their first experience dissecting, or even being in the same room while a dissection was taking place.
Initially, the students made observations on the external anatomy, noting the differences between the rough, armored skin of the sturgeon and the smooth, scale-less skin of the catfish and asking about the reasons for barbels, the large rostrum on the sturgeon and the sharp fin spines on the catfish. The students, however, were anxious to get started on the dissections. The technicians provided a general guide in how to cut and where to look for various organs, but the majority of the cutting and gutting was done by the students themselves. Naturally, there were a few “Ewwww! I’m not touching that!” moments, but overall the students were engrossed in learning about the anatomy of fishes. The technicians were impressed by the attentiveness exhibited by an age group notorious for being easily distracted. The students made keen observations on how the physiology of each species worked and perceived several differences between them, making insightful comments on how the unique adaptations would benefit the fish’s survival in the Missouri River. Mr. Miller also participated in the dissections and was thrilled to see his students so engaged in a biology lesson. His gratitude to the Columbia FWCO and to the four technicians was hard to miss, as he surveyed his active classroom while wearing an ear-to-ear smile. The technicians, too, left the classroom with healthy grins after sharing such a rewarding experience with an impressive group of young people. The crew at the Columbia FWCO hopes to continue providing lessons like this and many other educational outreach opportunities for Hickman and other area schools.