Trout in the Classroom CHC

Latest update March 26, 2019 Started on October 1, 2018

Fourth grade students at Cape Henry Collegiate will raise brook trout in their classroom and release into a freshwater river in the spring. Throughout the experience, they will study how this water quality indicator species of trout play an integral role in tracking the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. They will also investigate other indicators of water quality such as macroinvertebrate species and complete water quality data measurement throughout the year.

Their classroom tank must replicate the optimal environment for eventual release, join us as we complete our project and work to restore a positive health report for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

October 1, 2018
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In The Field

Mrs. Schnekser

I am so excited to tell you about a new component of this project that my students began this week. We heard of an opportunity to complete citizen science with the United States Geological Survey,

Research Biologist, Than Hitt and team put together a project titled eTrout, where citizen scientists (teachers, students, anglers, anyone!) can help complete a Brook Trout survey using 360 video footage collected over the summer in Shenandoah National Park. All interested parties initially visit this site:

First, watch the introductory video then jump into the project itself. My students began this week and it will take a little bit of time. Basically, they watch footage, keep track of how many brook trout they see in each video, and record it on the site. This is part of research Than is conducting and I, along with my students are very excited to participate and see the results in the end.

I can't wait to get a few students to create a blog about their experience soon--I am sure they have some great insight to share!

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Jordan and Luke:
Today we tested the water and here are the readings:

High Range pH: 7.4 Ammonia: .50 ppm Nitrite: 50 ppm Nitrate: 160 ppm

Although the fish look okay, the water readings for nitrite and nitrate are too high. To address the issue we added a bacterial supplement to help break down the nitrate and nitrite levels.

Currently, they are swimming to the bottom and seem to be searching for food although they were already fed. They are getting bigger and gaining their parr marks (their bars). They are about 2 inches long and getting coloration on their dorsal and anal fins. Their find used to be transparent but now look more orange and are getting white, black, and red stripes. Their yolk sacs are long gone and they are eating naturally now. Their food is dead, ground up bugs. In the wild, they will catch live bugs by jumping out of the water.

We will soon take the underwater drone out in the field for test drives, we can't wait to share the footage with you!

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Mrs. Schnekser:
We have been lagging in our posts recently, but I assure you, we were busy with an awesome project that we are completing in tandem with our fish tank! While still maintaining our brook trout, we also took a dive into creating Virtual Reality tours using VR Tour Creator and images from Google Streetview. Until this project, I have been the one curating content and sharing with students using VR, but this time, students were able to try their hand in the mix! I can't wait to share some of that work with you as well as the VR tour I created for them with images from last year's trout release.

Back to the tank.

Today, the water chemistry levels were a bit unsettling. While the pH was great, coming in at 7.4, the nitrite and nitrate levels were through the roof. When my student, Lia, found these readings, she immediately found me and we completed a 40% water change. To do this, we had to siphon out 10 gallons at a time, being sure not to suck up any of our trout parr in the process. We found quite a bit of tank "gunk" within the gravel which I am grateful we were able to take out. This can be a tedious process, siphoning and replacing while tap water must be treated and at the correct temperature before being added into the tank. There are many methods to achieve this, generally, the cold water tap is an okay temperature but the chlorine in tap water is the issue. You can either add the "de-chlorinator" solution to the water or let it sit at least 24 hours in the open. Both have some great advantages and disadvantages. Today, we chose to add the solution while time was not on our side. The levels of nitrates and nitrates could send our fish into shock if left the way they were for too long.

In about an hour, I will recheck the water chemistry while students will be gone for the day at that point. Fingers crossed!

We used to have over 20 marine tanks in our the lab and oh my gosh, doing water changes weekly on those tanks was a real challenge! I don't envy you but I love this project. What a great exploration opportunity for your students!
They are doing such a great job--we have had so many hiccups with the tank, fungus, and wacky chemistry readings. We have 10 babies and are hoping to keep them all alive for another month so we can release them!

Today I checked the water with Caroline,Brody and I. Everything was normal and good. We got to feed the fish today. We each got to put a small pinch into the water. I think this was the first time the students got to feed the fish. It was cool to see all of the fish to go up and eat the food. It is small specs of “sand” because it looks like sand. They eat right bite after another and it is different from normal house fish. They will eat one bite and swim around and the trout are hungry and ready to eat and eat before someone else will eat all of the other food.

Today’s water chemistry readings: High Range pH: 7.8 Ammonia: 0 ppm Nitrite: 0 ppm Nitrate: 0 ppm

Caroline: When I tested the water all of the water levels were normal. I did it with Joslyn, and Brody. When I had to get the water in the tube the trout kept coming up and almost touched my hand. This time we got to feed the trout on it was awesome to watch them go up and eat the food. It was fun like always to be able to test the water and the best part was feeding them and being able to do it with my friends.

Mrs. Schnekser

Today, I introduced students to Riverfest, the BIG EVENT where we release our trout each year. They took some time to explore the website for the event as a preview of our trip. We head out on this expedition on May 4--check out what they are excited to do!

Dylan L: On May 4th for a nexus, trip we are going to Waynesboro, Virginia. There we will release trout and visit the Riverfest and have delicious snow cones with my friends. While watching the duck race. Also, I would try to do the poster contest and try to win the awesome prize. I looked at the website of the poster contest and they looked really good drawings. The prizes for the duck race is $1,000 for first place, 2nd place gets $300, 3rd place gets $150, and 4th and 5th place gets $50. Also there I hope to release the trout and get over the slimy part about them.

Nicholas R.: I’m so excited to go on the trout field trip there's going to be canoeing, fishing, bean bag tasing, and stream safari. The part I am most excited for is the duck race you can win 1,000 dollars! We will realise the trout that day.

Henry S: River fest has been here for over 21 years. Riverfest is run by an all volunteer board.

Gayle: I can’t wait till May 4! On May 4 we go to Waynesboro, Virginia. You probably want to know what I’m so excited about, so I’ll tell you. On May 4, Waynesboro, Virginia holds a fair and trout release. Our trout will be released there, and we will go to the fair, called Riverfest. At the fair they have a Stream Electro-fishing and Interpretation station. Wildlife Center of Virginia, and Reptile Word will also be there. Two things I’m excited for are the duck race, and the poster contest. The duck race starts at around 4:00 P.M. For the poster contest you draw a picture of the animal of the ear, which is a Northern Long-Eared Bat. I want to enter because I love to draw, and bats are so cute! Those are the events at the fair, but this is why the fair got started. This fair was founded in 1997 to bring Waynesboro residents attention to helping to clean the South River. Soon Waynesboro had Did you know Riverfest is run by volunteers who don’t get paid, just love helping their community!

Lindsey: Riverfest When we go to riverfest we will be letting the trout go. I riverfest there are all sorts of things to do for example: there is a rubber ducky contest. Then canoe rides,and poster board contests. We will also visit a hatchery to see how they raise and take care of trout!

Brody: Hello it's Brody On May 4th we will be going Release or trout that we have grown It will be a fun and wet Adventure. We have been growing and raising the trout for at least about 2 months. We will also have lots of fun doing the rubber duck race, canoeing and more.Today we fed the trout for the first time.

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Mrs. Schnekser

Today, I tested the water today and found something quite interesting that I am excited to see play out in the Nitrogen cycle. The pH level was normal at 7.4, the ammonia, however, was .25ppm which means we will soon get to observe how ammonia is broken down in the nitrogen cycle by bacteria. To date, we have missed seeing these levels pass through nitrite and nitrate phase, but I am hopeful we will see it this time. If we do not and the ammonia levels continue to rise we will know that the bacteria is not performing and will have to intervene with a water change and possibly the addition of bacteria to the tank. We shall see!

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Molly and Piper share their excitement for the OpenROV Trident underwater drone!

Mrs. Schnekser:

Take a look at their unboxing video! All three classes were able to participate, enjoy seeing how each class reacted to the news!

Today Caroline and Joslyn checked the brook trout tank’s water. Joslyn was the one who wrote the data while Caroline was using the indicator solutions to see if the water was the same as the South River where we are letting the trout go. We have to make sure that the tank water is the same as the South River’s water, so that they aren’t different and make the trout die. Joslyn was checking for any dead fish (there was no dead fish.) Also Joslyn had to check the tanks temperature.

The temperature was 58 degrees, which is a little warmer than we try to keep it. Usually the water is between 54-56 degrees Fahrenheit, so we will be keeping an eye on this to make sure it does not get too hot. All other water chemistry levels were good today and no dead fish. That's a win!

Caroline and Joslyn

Mrs. Schnekser:
Today was epic! The Trident ROV showed up and students unboxed it. There are 3 classes of fourth graders working on this project, so I was able to relive the magic three times. Truthfully, I have known that this day would come before we left for break but wanted it to be a surprise for students, so I kept the secret until today! I left the box on one of the lab tables in the middle of the room and just allowed students to speculate what was going on. I wanted to remind them of how this even came to be, so I also made sure they answered some questions before tearing open the packaging. I am working on piecing together video from all three classes for you to see their reactions as well! They were very excited to blog after this big event. Take a look at their entries below!

Charlie: Today, Mrs. Schnekser just received the OpenROV Trident Drone in science and we got to see it. We earned it by hitting more than 25 likes about writing a trout paragraph for our 4th grade science blog. It [the drone] is big, it is white, it is very fragile, too! Our awesome science teacher, Mrs. Schnekser, said that we are going to test it out somewhere in Virginia Beach and even in one of our houses maybe. This drone can go underwater. It has a camera in the front of it and 2 propellers on the back. It also has a propeller on the bottom of it for going up and down in the water. It also comes with a tether for going far in the water. It isn’t long enough and she said that a 100 feet tether was being sent to her house.

Sophia D Hi, Sophia here!

Today me and my friends went to science. We thought it would be a normal science day but guess what! We came to science to a BIG SURPRISE! We saw a package and everybody was confused. When we opened the package We saw a underwater drone!!! That means that we got more than 25 follower! Everyone was so excited. I was imagining what we could do with the underwater drone. I bet we could do so many cool things with it. Some things I want to do with the underwater drone is find some cool fish and learn about their habitats. Another cool thing we can do with the underwater drone is find a new species of fish! That would be so cool if we could!

Coral: New drone Wow, we just got a drone. This is very exciting it is an underwater drone. The drone is able to go underwater and get footage. We will be using the drone for the trout trip in May. The kind of drone is a Trident. The company it came from is OpenROV. The drone will allow you to see things underwater.

Maya Well, today we received the drone. Everyone was so excited. We opened the box pretty quickly, then we finally got to the drone. The machine was smooth and white. It had propellers, in the end, its body. With a camera right on the top and lights around the camera it was perfect if we decided to experience on murky waters we would still get good pictures of the underwater world. I think we should go with the drone to a couple of different lakes and compare them to trout standards { clean, healthy, lots of food}. Maybe then we can find the problem in some lakes and suggest/ find solutions.

Keegan Today we got our underwater drone, it was pretty heavy. It was white and black with 3 motors and 2 pairs of lights to help the camera. I really hope we can go out on a boat to the bay

Payton Today we had a surprise package in science class! it was an underwater drone! we got it for getting 25 followers on our blogs! the underwater drone is going to be used for looking at underwater life!

Gayle (before knowing we received the drone) Drone I’m so excited! We just found out that if we get twenty-five followers we will most likely get a drone! I want us to get it because I really want to see one of the trout up close. Also if we get it we can take pictures of the trout. Once we labeled fish anatomy, and learned about parts of the fish. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because if we get the drone, and take pictures of the trout, we might be able to identify parts of the trout. Like, their caudal, dorsal, and anal fin. Now, that would be so cool! Mrs. Schnekser might even post a picture on this blog!

Gayle (after realizing we got it!) Getting The Drone Ahh!! Today Mrs. Schnekser told us we got the drone! We found a box just sitting on the table. Mrs. Schnekser told us the box came over Winter Break, while we were away. She told us it was the drone, and we could open it. Immediately everybody tried to get a good look, or help open it. She also told us that even she hadn’t seen it yet and we were the first ones to see it! Unfortunately, we can’t run it yet because Mrs. Schnekser ordered the remote separately, and it’s not here yet. I can’t wait till it gets here! We can use it when we release them in Wayensboro, Virginia this Spring.


On May 4, 2019, we will travel 4 hours to the South River located in Waynesboro, VA. With us, we will take our brook trout in a cooler with a bubble stone inside. We will also pack our water chemistry test kit, clear cups, and gear to get IN the water. Keep in mind that the water will be around 55 degrees Fahrenheit and in Virginia, the weather at that time is unpredictable. There have been days where we release in 80 degree weather and some that are around 50 degrees and rainy. No matter the conditions, we release the trout, so we will follow the forecast closely when the time draws near.
During our voyage to Waynesboro, VA, we will traverse through 3 different geographic regions. We live in the Coastal Plain, we will enjoy the Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, and Valley and Ridge. This is one of my favorite expeditions because my team (students) will be able to experience first hand what we have been studying in the laboratory. For most, this will be their first exposure to a landscape different from the coast where we live which is always an exciting time. At the South River, which is a tributary of the Shenandoah River, we will acclimate our trout, collect macroinvertebrate samples, and release our trout. Following this part of the expedition, we will visit a hatchery that raises several trout species in an outdoor watershed replication system. It is absolutely fascinating and I look forward to sharing with my expedition team and all of you as well. The town of Waynesboro celebrates this release with a festival, check it out here:

Mrs. Schnekser: Today, I received an email from OpenROV about an underwater drone, TridentROV. They are willing to gift us an underwater drone and we are so excited! Check out my students' ideas for using the drone here:

Dylan L: I would use the drone for seeing how the trout live in the wild. I would also look for what food they eat and zoom up close at the trout to see their characteristics on their external anatomy. I would also look for the habitat they live in and see how far they travel in a day to a week to a month.

Joslyn: If we get the drone I would like to watch the trout that we release swim away and I would also like to show 1 of the grown trout and one of the trout we just released.

Emma: I would like to use the drone to discover something like a new species, but I would still be okay if we didn’t. I would also like to see some trout I have never seen before. We have learned about fish anatomy. Did you know brook trout use their caudal fin most to swim? I didn’t know that till after a couple trout lessons. I think if the underwater drone can take pictures we can catch a trout in action

Gayle: I’m so excited! We just found out that if we get twenty-five followers we will most likely get a drone! I want us to get it because I really want to see one of the trout up close. Also if we get it we can take pictures of the trout. Once we labeled fish anatomy, and learned about parts of the fish. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because if we get the drone, and take pictures of the trout, we might be able to identify parts of the trout. Like, their caudal, dorsal, and anal fin. Now, that would be so cool! Mrs. Schnekser might even post a picture on this blog! We could also take pictures of the trout.

Lindsey: Now the drone I would use the drone for looking at the trout in the rivers, tanks, and see how they live. I think it would be cool to see the trout and how they move around. It's fun to see how the temp and how their gills move.

Lia: I would think that you should use it for a timelapse for underwater to see what time fish come out and see if there is any fish at all instead of waiting for them

Anna-Kate: Our class really wants to use the drone to see what it looks like underwater. We want to get to see fish in the wild. I would like to see it because it would be cool to see what it look like underwater and see if we will be looking in a lake, or an ocean, and if the drone will be going down deep are take pics up above the water I also want to see the fish and what kind of fish are down there. It would be cool to do it I wish i could.

Nicholas: I would also use it to study and take video and pictures to post on here.

Roni: I will use the underwater drone by studying the trouts closely.

Henry: I want to use the drone for exploring the places where we put the drone such as the Chesapeake bay. I mean only if we get the drone. I really want the drone so I can learn more about the water. I also want to see the trout in action.

Mrs. Schnekser: We are fortunate to live "at the beach" here in Virginia Beach, VA. It will be great to use the drone to explore the Chesapeake Bay, here, as well as trace the local tributaries up to our neighborhoods. When we travel to release the trout in May, we will definitely also bring it to the South River to investigate where our trout live naturally.

Molly and Gloria created a video to share some of what they have learned in our first few months with our brook trout--take a look.

Fungus: a problem that needs immediate care:

Emma: Mrs.Schnekser went to test the water today and when we had class, she told us that all of the eggs had fungus on them. She said we had to get new ones, her old school is going to help us!

Joslyn: We check the eggs every day for fungus. First you have to get the fish eggs on a petri dish. Then we look and study the trout to see if they have white spots on them. It was really exciting when we found twins, but they eventually died. One day we walked in and there was a tank with nothing in it. They all died. Everybody was really sad and upset that they might be at fault they died. Actually they died because they all got fungus.

Ava: Eggs are yellow, if they have white spots, that is fungus growing on the egg. You do not want fungus on the eggs because it will spread to the other eggs and kill them. That is why you have to take the eggs with fungus on them out of the tank. One day we found an egg that had twin Trout in it. Another day when we came to school from the weekend we found out that all of the Trout were dead! The fungus had spread to all of the Trout eggs and had killed them.

Mrs. Schnekser
Friends, this morning, I came in to check on the eggs and found them covered in a cocoon of white. I am devastated and have to think about how to break the news to my students. They have been diligently checking water chemistry, culling fungus infected eggs, and ensuring that the tank they have set up is accurately replicating the environment in which they will eventually release their fish. This is absolutely a natural part of the project, but it does not make it any easier to break the news. They will undoubtedly want definitive answers and I do not have them. A few reasons this may have occurred are that we did not cull all of the infested eggs before leaving over the weekend, a cleaning chemical entered the water, or perhaps even the last group to test water chemistry may have dumped the indicator solution into the tank rather than disposing, using our protocols. In the end, the fact of the matter is that we have lost our entire lot of eggs and alevin. Before the day begins, I am going to email fellow teachers that participate in raising trout to see if they are having issues or if they wouldn't mind sharing their fish with us. Before we acquire new fish though, we will need to ensure the tank's water chemistry is balanced, we may have a nitrogen cycle issue here, now that I think about it.


Mrs. Schnekser: Checking water chemistry of our tank is incredibly important. Here, students explain to you how to do just that and why we need to pay close attention every day to any changes that might occur.

Teddy: we test the water all the time so the trouts can have clean water. We know to change the water when the nitrate is high. We clean the bottom of the tank so the trout can have clean water.

Piper: You test the water with a small test tube and the water [from the tank] up to the line on the test tube. Then you put five drops high range ph. If it is a dark yellow that means the water is good but if it is dark purple the trout can die. So you obviously want the water with drops in it to be a dark yellow so the trout can survive.

Jackson: Some trout look different. Our trout were in white eggs at first. Once they hatched they grew sacks that hung on their belly. It took about 8-10 days to grow the sacks. Then the trout grow bigger, and the sack grows into their bodies. So now the trout look like little minnows, and they look normal. They have a light brown, and white body. They have brown fins. They also have dark brown stripes.

Sofia: Today I’m going to tell you about water chemistry. Water chemistry is very important. Trout love cold water because they live near the mountains which can be cold. You should test the water the trout are in because if the water is dirty they have a chance of dying. Trout also like when they live near rocks because it’s easier to swim when they’re young. We use a siphon to suck up all the dirt and dead trout. Many trout die when they’re young. It’s hard for them to survive. We use testing tubes and chemicals to test the water. If the water’s purple that means it is dirty. If the water is yellow that means the water is average or clean. You need to change the water if the nitrate levels are high.


October 10, 2018

Our Brook Trout have arrived, here are some comments from students about what they have been doing to prepare.

Harrison: me and the fourth grade community will be raising trout at chc. These trout are called broke trout. Before we get the trout we need to learn about them so we can take care of them. We are releasing the trout in waynesboro, va.

Zoey: How did we set up the tank? We were starting to set up the tank but wait first we had to take all of the wires out of the tank. Then the next step on what we did to set up the tank was to set the filter and then to get the water. After we set the tank up we had to make sure that the water was cold enough so that the trout don't get too hot nor too cold.

Caroline: We need our [tank] water to be cool because the south river is cool and if our tank isn't cool they will all die when we release them.

Kelly: My class put in the water. It had to be cold because when we set them free we will be putting them in cold water and they should be used to it. We put in the filter and the chiller which would tell us the temperature. The temperature had to be around 55 degrees.

Gayle: This year we’re raising brook trout in our classroom. One part, and a very important part of raising the trout is that you need to make sure their water is the right temperature, and the PH level in the water is just right. A cold water temperature is important because when we release them, we will release them in a cold stream. If the water in their tank is warm they will not survive. The water temperature is best if it’s from 52-56 degrees. The PH level is the amount of acid in the water. You put five drops of the High Range PH indicator solution in a in a container with a sample of the water. You want the PH level to be from 7.4 - 8.0. If it’s higher you have to put in a chemical so the trout don't die. We also have to check the level of ammonia, and nitrite. To make sure the water is just right, two or three people check the tanks temperature, nitrite, ammonia, and PH level each day.

Expedition Background

We live at the "end" of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, literally on the Chesapeake Bay. We see the combined effects of the 6 states whose water sources contribute to the health (or lack thereof) of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Since 2005, we have participated in a project called "Trout in the Classroom" where we raise brook trout in a tank we setup each year from egg stage to fingerling and release into the South River, which is 4 hours west of our school. It is a freshwater river which is the natural habitat of many trout species. Brook trout are an indicator species, meaning their appearance or lack thereof in freshwater rivers indicates it's water quality. Large populations of brook trout indicate great water quality while the opposite indicates poor quality. We team up with the Trout Unlimited Chapters in Virginia as well as the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to raise these trout and release them in the river in an attempt to bolster populations and indicate the water's quality change over time. This project teaches us many things, gets us into the field, and makes us a positive part of watershed rehabilitation efforts. We hope you follow our journey and learn along with us as we work to increase the overall water quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

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