Carkeek Park’s November Salmon

Every November through December there is a salmon run in Piper’s Creek in Seattle’s Carkeek Park and yesterday afternoon I went with my students to see if we could spot any of the 100-600 salmon that return to that creek where they began their lives.  The opportunity to see a salmon run in such an urban setting is rich with learning opportunities and any chance to get the kids outside and engaged I’m going to jump on.  Urban sustainability, salmon biology, and habitat preservation are all on display at Carkeek and the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife have done a wonderful job of re-invigorating and preserving what was once a “lost” salmon run.  Lost to early-20th century urban development, deforestation, and the building of a railroad that blocked the salmon’s ability to return to Piper’s Creek.   Now they have a stock supplementation program at Carkeek that introduces fingerling salmon that are raised from eggs in a hatchery pond on-site, and are then released into Piper’s Creek each spring.  What’s there today is a moderately successful program that sees a fairly impressive return every year.  The odds are stacked against the fish (and all salmon, really) in a multitude of ways.  The creek is in the middle of the city and at the receiving end of the surface runoff water of some 17,000 people who live near and above the creek.  Regardless, salmon are fighters from the beginning to the end and any return at all is considered a success.  Here’s a short video I took of some of the fish we saw.

When I looked at the weather report on my phone I had a hard time believing that the little sun next to Thursday was really going to happen but the day was perfect and shirt sleeve weather, as they say.  I wish that I had an app that would tell me how I was going to feel on Thursday, because on Wednesday I’d been hit with an end-of-days cold that was peaking miserably on Thursday.  I had a student ask me on Wednesday, “Mr. Evans are you sick?”.  Why yes, yes I am sick.  How can you tell?  “Because you’re in such a good mood.”  It’s true.  The cold medicine cocktail had me a bit upbeat but as we know about all band-aid treatments, my underlying problem was not being treated by the masking of symptoms provided by the decongestants/couch suppressant speedball I was on.  By Thursday my tolerance for such meds had dwindled and I thought I may have to go home sick.  I pushed through though and I’m glad as the trip to Carkeek was absolutely worth it.  And being outside on such an amazing day was exactly what I needed to forget about the gripping vice secured around my head and throat.

My expectations for actually seeing any fish were low.  I had visited Carkeek last year with my then 6th grade students and we had seen maybe 3-4 salmon carcasses on the shore of the creek, but nothing alive.  We started at the western end of the creek trail near the train tracks that run parallel to Puget Sound, and made our way east upstream, stopping at each of the dozen viewing platforms set up along the creek.  At the first one we saw a big salmon.  Then we walked to the next platform and saw two more. Then we moved to a small bridge that crossed over the creek and saw 4-5 more.   The salmon were lazily waving in the shallow stream with some of their dorsal and tail/caudal fins sticking out of the water.  Every so often they would make splashing attempts to move farther upstream with limited success.  The reality that these salmon were at the end of their lives seemed obvious and bittersweet to all of us.  It is worth celebrating that these fish have even made it back to this creek where they were born, and alternately sad that they return to spawn and die, with many of them already looking zombie-like and very near death. They were big fish though, maybe 6-15 pounders, but these are not the pretty silver salmon you see at Pikes Place Market or that I was pulling out of British Columbia waters last summer.  They were red and brown, white, black, and beat up. Regardless, the kids were pumped and hollering and pointing every time they spotted a fish.

The students that had accompanied me last year were with me again on this visit, and I believe our low-expectations for this trip were shared.  To actually see salmon spawning was a nice victory and I’m glad to have been able to show my students what I believe is one of the most amazing biological phenomena in the world.  It can be compared to the migratory patterns of birds and whales.  But to begin and end your life in the same place after many years and thousands of miles in open ocean is truly unique to salmon.  I really think that anyone who calls themselves a true Northwest native needs to see it in person.

My students looking at the big salmon that made their way far up Piper's Creek


October All Over

It has been a while since my last post, and I’m not sure that one even counted as such.  The end of summer felt transitional in every way.  The summer was ending.  My 2+ year relationship had just fizzled to the point of me questioning whether it had ever happened. A new school year was beginning.  This is my first year as a full-time contracted teacher and this school year has been incredible so far.  I’m here at West Seattle Academy full-time and can focus all of my energy at becoming a better teacher.  I have planning time now.  I have communications with parents that are fulfilling and helpful.  I can implement classroom management strategies that work and that are part of my student’s entire school day.  My responsibilities have grown to make me feel complete as an educator and as a contributor to a wonderful community of teachers, students, and their families.

In addition to teaching science and social studies, I am also teaching PE and a leadership class which has me helping our students become great leaders within their capacities as 11-13 year old adolescents.  My goal is to push them towards becoming leaders within the school, their families, and their community as a whole. One of our agenda items for leadership class is to become involved in community service projects and our first such endeavor took place on October 20th, 2011.  We spent that particular Thursday cleaning up two local parks.  We went to my favorite Seattle park, Lincoln Park, in the morning before heading to Alki Beach where we had lunch, swept the beach for trash, and then had a quick game of football in the sand.

My students are surprisingly on board with anything remotely resembling environmentalism.  Before heading out for the day I gave a quick speech about how to safely pick up trash (no needles, glass, toilet paper, diapers, or things that look “sketchy”) and how to behave appropriately in public places en masse (don’t blow the rubber gloves I give you into balloons). The crew that went to the Lincoln Park beach did find a needle and a 12″ long filet knife likely left by a careless salmon fisherman during the late summer pink salmon run.  I can’t tell you how badly that 7th grade boy wanted to keep that knife.  We picked up a depressingly huge amount of trash at Lincoln Park.  However the setting kept our spirits up and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.

WSA Students Sweeping Lincoln Park

The Monday after the park clean-up the entire middle school headed out-of-town for an overnight trip to Waskowitz Outdoor School.  Last year I took our then 6th grade class to Waskowitz for a rainy week spent immersed in all things environmental science.  This latest trip was more about all of us bonding as a group in a natural setting.  The property is very expansive and when we arrived at 10am we unloaded into our cabins before heading into the forest for a hike and lunch cookout at the base of the forest fire lookout Waskowitz has on property.  The fire lookout was originally on Stampede Pass and when it became obsolete was sold to the Highline School District (who run Waskowitz) for $1.  The only catch was that the district had to pay for a helicopter to move the lookout thirty-plus miles west to where it currently stands.  Despite the rain, we started a small fire and warmed our hot dogs on whittled, soggy branches.  Our Spanish exchange student was initially horrified that we were cooking in such a manner but he has grown to love our American hot dogs, and quickly forgot about any possibility of tree-to-human disease transfer.  He also had never eaten/seen a marshmallow and to say s’mores around the evening campfire blew his mind is an understatement.

Earning their merit badges in lighting campfires and smiles

The rest of the day was spent on more hiking, a rousing game of kickball in a beautiful field covered in elk dung, and a delicious pizza dinner at a North Bend pizzeria.  We left early the next day to get back to school by lunch and for the student’s play auditions with their drama teacher in the afternoon.  I feel very sorry for that drama teacher because we all smelled toxic and I’m sure the small confines of the multi-purpose room incubated that stank something ferocious.

This year has been jam-packed and as exhausting as it can be, I still love getting up and going to work everyday.  I am really lucky to work where I work and be able to teach such a small group of students.  The activities we take part in, the adventures we have, and most of the lessons we learn benefit greatly from our small size and from the freedom I have to take them out of the classroom and interacting with the amazing natural resources we have quick access to here in Seattle.  With November starting next week and the inevitable increasing rains I have no plans to slow down.  Middle schoolers are hardy and mine are slow-ish to complain…which I’m also grateful for.  Next up on the agenda is to take my 6th and 7th graders to Carkeek Park in the Broadview neighborhood of Seattle where they have an annual, urban salmon run of Coho and Chum salmon that we can view.  I ordered a set of water ecology kits this past summer and we will use those to test the quality of the stream water these salmon will be returning to.  I went last year and saw a lot of dead salmon and am hoping to head out earlier in the run to try to see some nearly dead salmon.  Thanks for reading all and be sure to check out my Flickr account for more photographs.

Waskowitz Outdoor School

I spent last week up at the Waskowitz Outdoor Education School, taking all seven of my 6th graders up there for a very rainy, busy week.  It was an incredible time and an experience unlike any we can possibly have within the confines of a dry classroom.  It was torrential rainfall nonstop from Monday up until Thursday around 11am, when it finally quit for a few hours, and since we would be spending the majority of our time outside, we all remained sopping wet for the majority of our time there.

The schedule for the week was jam-packed with activities, games, lessons, and a rainy, dare-I-say miserable trip to the Cedar River Watershed.  We started our outdoor education with water ecology and chemistry on Tuesday morning.  I planned and instructed all of our lessons for the week, with the exception of our water chemistry lesson which was led by the on-site naturalist.  The plan was to take samples from multiple water sources and test them for dissolved oxygen, phosphate, and PH levels.  We tested water from the Waskowitz pool (which had some noisy frogs living in it that serenaded me to sleep every night), the Snoqualimie River, and a mystery source that turned out to be water our naturalist gathered from a puddle at a nearby golf course.  During planning for the lesson, the naturalist and I hoped that the students would gather from their results that the water from the river was healthy and clean (as it “looked” such), that the water from the pool was also healthy and clean (even though it looked nasty, the frogs are sensitive amphibians and were thriving in the water there), and that the mystery water results would come back high in phosphate and unsuitable for life as golf courses use tons of fertilizer/phosphates to keep those greens green.

All results came back as expected and the lesson went well.  In our class meeting later in the day my students expressed that they were happy that we had spent time studying water chemistry as it was something that we lacked the resources to study back at our school.  This was music to my ears and the precise reason I planned this lesson for us.

During the lesson we spent time collecting macro-invertebrates in the then-shallow water of the Snoqualimie River.  Here are two shots of us wading and collecting….

Collecting little bugs-to-be in the Snoqualimie River

Take notice of the exposed rocks and low-level that the river is at in this photo, taken Tuesday morning.  By Thursday afternoon, this is what the Snoqualimie looked like…

The torrential rain and resulting snow melt from higher elevations raised the river to dangerous levels that made all attempts at collecting samples impossible for other classes that had planned on completing their own water ecology and chemistry lessons.  On Thursday after our all-day hike we went down to the river to see the change first-hand from the shore at the river shelter.  I took more photos of the area where we had taken our samples days earlier and started a fire to hasten the warming of hands and the drying of boots.  I’m pretty proud to boast that I started three fires at Waskowitz, each with one match, and twice in the rain.  I will stay warm.

The change in the river and the force behind it was astounding to witness throughout the week.  Luckily, we completed all of our lessons associated with the river before it became dangerous and hiked into the forest to explore the trails on the Waskowitz property.

Our big hiking day was on Thursday.  I had a student who needed to leave Waskowitz by 1pm that day and she was going to get picked up from our lunch spot, the forest fire lookout.  Given that our group was so small, we had been given the rare privilege of being allowed to have a cookout over the small, iron stove inside of the lookout.  Once I had the fire going, after a few minutes of intense smoke as the flue heated up and started sending the smoke up the chimney rather than into the small room, we had one of the more satisfying lunches I had ever eaten.  Well, in the least they were surely the best two hot dogs I had ever eaten.  We had just finished a rigorous three-mile hike almost completely uphill, through the rain which had just let up as we were coming upon the shelter.   The warmth from the fire matched with the epic view from atop our fire lookout combined to make one of the best meals I’ve ever shared with my students.  The s’mores for dessert weren’t bad for the spirit either.

Overall and despite the anxiety that always accompanies being responsible for the lives and good times of other people’s children, the week was a resounding success.  Each of my students told me that our Thursday six-hour hike was one of the best days of their short lives, and to have an, albeit small, group go through what they went through without a single complaint is no small task.  There were four other (Catholic) schools at Waskowitz while we were there and I felt very lucky to have the company that I had.  The other teachers had a lot on their plates with their large groups of 17-25 students and I was definitely a source of envy for them.  The only low point of being surrounded by Catholics all week-long  was the awkward sitting through grace that my students and I went through before each meal.  The other teachers were very kind and asked me prior to launching into it the first night if it would cause discomfort amongst my students and I, and allowed me to discuss it with my group at our meeting that night so I could confirm that it would just be awkward, and not a big deal.  My favorite highpoint was the unexpected realization that the two nuns I shared living quarters with during the week were season ticket-holding baseball fans that provided fascinating insight and advice as I shuffled my fantasy baseball roster around in the few minutes I had to myself.



Long Jumps

In addition to science I co-teach PE on Thursday afternoons.  We don’t have any facilities at our small school, but being small means we can fit the middle school into two big vans and drive to where there are facilities.  Today, we headed out to West Seattle Stadium.  Three times a year we run the mile, and each time the students try to better their time from before.  Today was the second mile of the year, with the third and final coming in the end of May.  I ran mine in 7:31 today, besting my Fall time by 14 seconds.  My goal for May is to break 7 minutes.  I ask all the students to set goals for themselves, and work with them in making them realistic and attainable.  Almost all of us beat our Fall times today and that put us in a great mood so we decided to have a go at the long jump set up at the track.  These are some funny, camera phone action shots I took with whole set at the Wild Coasts Flickr.  That little guy above jumped the farthest out of everyone you see in the photo set, including myself and my 6’4″ co-teacher, Señor Jay, our middle school Spanish teacher.  I was always more of a high jumper then a long jumper.

Spaghetti Bridge

Spaghetti Bridge made of only white glue and 440g of spaghetti.  It held 7.7 kg (17 lbs) which is 17.5 times its own weight.  Each team could use up to 750g of spaghetti and they had to meet specific length, width, and height specifications.

My 8th grade students engineered and constructed them and the weight tests started today.  The winning team will have a spaghetti lunch cooked by yours truly.

Zane’s Animal Cell-o Mold

This is an incredible model of an animal cell one of my students made for extra credit.  He made this in addition to completing the take-home exam I gave them to test their knowledge of plant and animal cell parts.  Can you name any cell organelles?  This student is brilliant, as is the rest of his family.  His older sister goes to Lakeside, Mom is a district judge, and Dad is a professional chef.  Last October his mother came to parent-teacher conferences dressed like an angel because she had to go to her office (being court) Halloween party right after our conference.