British Columbia

Tumbler Ridge students run working fish farm for innovative class

A popular course at Tumbler Ridge Secondary School puts students in charge of running a working fish farm.

Popular course has Tumbler Ridge high school students raising 7,000 goldfish

High school students in Tumbler Ridge are raising 7,000 goldfish as part of an innovative science and technology course. (Mark Deeley)

"I have a lot of crazy ideas," says Mark Deeley. "This one just happened to work."

Deeley's "crazy idea" was converting his science and tech class at Tumbler Ridge Secondary School into something a little different: a full-scale goldfish farm.

He's well on the way: in 2015, his students raised 300 goldfish.

This year, they are raising over 7,000.

Speaking with CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk, Deely said the inspiration for the course came from Deeley's time as a biologist working at West Coast Fish Culture in Powell River. 

"My bosses there were very smart," he said. "They made me do every little bit of the job."

He gives the same responsibility to his students, Grades 10 through 12.

They do everything from build and design water filters to caring for the fish to creating a custom-built computer program that tracks how much the food is being eaten.

The results?

"I can honestly say as a biologist and a fish farmer they're the healthiest looking fish I've ever seen."

Learning by doing

Deeley says the course's true value is in teaching his students about how to work as a team in the real world.

"In other courses, if a kid doesn't do well on a test, it only affects him," he explained. 

"In this course, if a kid doesn't feed the fish or doesn't track the food or doesn't build something properly it affects everyone."

Students in Mr. Deeley's science and tech class are responsible for every aspect of the goldfish farm, including designing and building the water-filtering systems. (Mark Deeley)

There's also unique opportunities to learn from mistakes. In the first year, a large number of the fish died.

The next year, students who signed up for the course again were able to figure out what went wrong and dramatically reduce the mortality rate.

"No matter what happens, there's never a failure. There's just a chance to learn and to improve," Deeley said.

He said seeing his students in action also gives him more confidence when providing references for employers.

"There's a lot of growth personally in getting along with people, seeing the bigger picture, not just your small part of it."

Community engagement

​The program's success has attracted attention both inside the school and from the outside world.

There's a wait list to sign up for the course, and Education Minister (and local MLA) Mike Bernier has given it his endorsement.

As for where the course will go next, Deeley's not sure, but he's hoping future classes might be able to raise trout for local lakes or manage a fish pond for the municipality of Tumbler Ridge.

In the meantime, he's inviting the public to see the work of his students at a goldfish sale being held Jan.14.

"I would invite anybody to swing by and tour our fish farm. it's amazing." he said. "But the most amazing things is our students."

With files from Ash Kelly.

To hear the full interview with Deeley, click on the audio labeled 'Teacher Mark Deeley explains the lessons learned from raising 7,000 goldfish.'

To see more photos of the fish farm, visit CBC Daybreak North on Facebook.