Goldfish Crackers, Math and Overfishing

January 9, 2014
By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo
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Teaching first graders about overfishing and basic mathematics was surprisingly easy, fun and inspirational with the only challenge being hungry students sneak-eating the “fish”.  Audubon Zoo educators and New Orleans’ charter school Lycee Francais of New Orleans are partners in a wonderful program that allows four week modules of zoo classroom experience.  Zoo educators give one hour of direct instruction per day related to the curriculum theme for the week.  This week the first graders are learning about the environment and conservation.

Our informal instruction combined a math lesson with an environmental lesson on overfishing.  We knew it was off to a good start when we asked how many students had been fishing.  Hands shot into the air.  We asked them what kinds of fish they caught.  Flounder, catfish, crabs, Redfish! Where did they go fishing?  Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain.  This was going to be easy.

Half the class would be responsible fisherman.  Half the class would be irresponsible.  They were given 30 goldfish crackers in a bowl (their ocean).  They were to fish.  Irresponsible fisherman could fish 10 fish.  Responsible fisherman could fish 5.    They wrote math problems on the board.  We let them replace fish in groups.  We answered questions on how fish replace themselves.  Some got frustrated that they were assigned overfishing when they knew it was the wrong thing to do. We had them add, we had them subtract, we had them place fish in groups of five.  It was going great.  Then the numbers started to be off, we noticed fish disappearing in little mouths, crunching was more evident than discussion.  They were sneak eating their goldfish crackers.  This became a teachable moment.  What happens when we eat too many fish or eat fish that were supposed to return to the sea?  There weren’t going to be enough goldfish for everyone to share at the end.  The light bulbs went on over their heads. 

I have a passion for inquiry based learning and hands on teaching.  So do the students.  They will never look at a box of goldfish crackers again without thinking about the fish in the sea and their responsibility to make sure there are always enough.