Far afield trip: MPHS science students study salmon spawning in Alaska
September 24, 2008
A dozen Middle Park High School students had the time of their young lives during a science trip to Alaska in June.
During their week-long trip to America’s 50th state, the 12 students participated in scientific research projects at a marine biology installation, worked on an environmental restoration project, observed glaciers and talked with scientists.
“They got to see and do real life science,” said Maggie Keller, the Middle Park High teacher who led the trip. “Our students learned science through some hands-on activities while we were in Alaska. Everyone of them learned a lot and had a great time doing it.”
Departing from Denver International Airport on June 8, the Middle Park High science students flew to Anchorage, Alaska. From there, they drove down to the town of Seward to the Alaska Sea Life Center, a marine biology research center, which became their headquarters during their stay in Alaska that continued until June 14.
While at the SeaLife Center, the Middle Park group assisted the center’s biologists in a research project on spawning salmon. The students netted the salmon, weighed and measured them, and took samples of their fish scales.
“They learned a lot about why collecting all this data is important for the management of that species,” Keller said. “What’s really cool is that they did a similar project with Kokanee salmon here at the Shadow Mountain Reservoir last year. They were able to compare and contrast the two experiences.”
The students also got to work in the Alaska SeaLife Center’s laboratories including doing a DNA study. They also worked on developing a town design plan that incorporated the needs of the wildlife who live in its immediate vicinity.
In addition to scientific research, the students participated in a environmental restoration project at an estuary near the town of Kenai. They assisted the Kenai Watershed Forum in replanting native grasses and other plants in a area damaged by tourists trying to view the estuary’s Sandhill cranes.
“We got dirty, but we learned a lot of science doing it,” Keller said. “The kids also learned how good it feels to help a community that wants to protect its environmental resources.”
The students also got the chance to talk with the scientists working the Alaska SeaLife Center and learn about their professions. One real treat for them was meeting Jared Guthridge, a Middle Park High School alumni and former Granby resident, who is a research biologist working at the center for the past three years.
“It was a really neat experience for them to meet him,” Keller said. “Jared had some of the same teachers at Middle Park High that they have now.”
The Alaska trip was not all work and no play for the students. They went sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay near Seward and took a boat trip to the Kenai Fjord National Park to observe the “calving” of glaciers. “Glacier calving” is when huge pieces of ice break off a glacier and coming crashing down into the sea.
Along with all the science and other adventures they experienced, the Middle Park High students also camped the entire time they were in Alaska.
“We lived in tents, cooked our own food and worked together,” Keller said. “We were like a family. I think all the kids had a great time.”
This is the third science trip that Keller has led in the past four years. On one previous trip, Middle Park students traveled to Florida to study marine biology. Two years ago, they also made a trip to the Alaska SeaLife Center.
“We’re hoping to do another science trip like this the year after next,” Keller said. “It’s a lot of work to organize and conduct one of these trips.”