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Innovation day turned out to be a treat this year

This last Tuesday was an interesting day. It was a day that I was both looking forward to and was a little anxious about. Not anxious as in nervous, but anxious in what might happen when you hand a rod and reel to forty fifth-grade students.

For those of you that may not know, when I’m not in a boat, sitting in a tree, or writing some outdoors stories, I teach fifth grade at Minooka Intermediate School. This has been the last week of school for these kids and we have been trying to plan fun yet meaningful activities for them.

Well, Tuesday was what we call Innovation Day. This day was planned by the teachers to introduce students to a variety of topics that they might find interesting. It covered everything from your traditional sports like golf and soccer to cake decorating, storm the castle (catapult building) and just about any other topic you could think of.

The whole idea was to immerse the students in hands-on activities that allow them to think, discover, and innovate in new ways. When the call for volunteers came in an email I thought about it and decided to run a session on professional fishing.

Lots of students have been exposed to fishing in some way, but what about the possibility of making a living at it? I sent in my topic to the organizer and waited for this week.

To come up with some ways in which students could be active and moving about took some thinking. I knew that I wasn’t going to have access to enough equipment where everyone could actually fish, nor was I going to have the means to take them all to some fully stocked dream pond where five-pounders beg to be caught.  

Then it hit me. To become better anglers, we need to understand fish behavior, why they act the way they do and how do we find them. After a brief introduction in the classroom to the session’s topic and a little background information I passed out nametags.

Sounds exciting, right? On these nametags there was written one of several choices: crawfish, minnow, bluegill, bass and one muskie. My co-teacher, Mrs. Heide, and myself passed out these nametags to random students until everyone had one. We then went outside.

Once out on the school grounds the class huddled around. I asked them to imagine that the world around them was completely underwater. Everything you see is now the bottom of a lake or pond. We discussed their individual roles in the food chain and what it took to survive in this hostile liquid world.  

I then told the students to disperse across the school property and find a good place to call home. What followed was quite amazing. The minnows, crawfish, bluegills, bass, and the one muskie all scattered. In just a few moments they had found good underwater places to hide.

Some were squeezing themselves between the branches of the small shrubs around the school.

Others hung close to the trunk of a tree. One student found a deep depression in the yard where a manhole was at. He jumped in that hole and dropped about ten inches. Five or six students all lined up at different places where the flat grass sloped and dropped quickly to the retention pond. Not one student was standing out in the open.

I had them look around and then we gathered back up as a group. What I had just witnessed told me that survival instincts are drilled into the fiber of who we are. These kids, who had never really thought about where fish hang out, just picked the exact places in which fish do hang out to try and survive. It was awesome.

We discussed the places they chose, why they were good, and how they can use that to their advantage the next time they are on the water with their families. The rest of the session then involved practicing different casting techniques to accurately place a bait to those places they just were hiding in.

As I reflected on the day’s activities I was really impressed at how Innovation Day allowed the students to think in a new way. It gave them the chance to be creative, explore, and apply their skills and knowledge.  

I bet that this summer there will be a lot of 11-year olds commanding their parents and grandparents where to fish.

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