Michael Borgendale, a fifth grade teacher at Deephaven Elementary, is passionate about helping students create connections between what they are learning and their own lives. He’s installed an aquarium fish tank in his classroom for years to do just that, and this fall, with the support of the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation, the experience got a major upgrade with a new tank more than double the size of the original.
“It's something that really resonates with so many students,” said Borgendale. “There's such a mystery about what's really going on in the lake, under the water.” The aquatics tank gives students a window into that world.
Borgendale has always had a passion for the outdoors and for teaching about the science of nature. As a home to native aquatic species, his classroom tank will bolster biology lessons by providing a dynamic way to teach about the life cycle of freshwater species that live in Lake Minnetonka and other nearby bodies of water.
The tank currently has a population of one, a single sunfish, but Borgendale intends to add more fish in the near future, with the help of his students.
“I want to get the kids curious about what the fish eat and what type of aquatic environment they live in,” he said. “It is a great resource to have to add on to other discussions about pollution and how we are connected to these natural environments.”
It wasn’t just the completed fish tank that has garnered student excitement, though, shared Borgendale. He noted that the “unboxing” and assembly process throughout the fall was also a big hit with students.
“We slowly brought it into the classroom and started to unbox it, which the kids loved, and slowly watched it come together. We took [the pieces] out slowly and looked at the directions and put together one piece a day.”
One day the class figured out the lights, and another day they added the filter, said Borgendale. “I passed [the filter] around and let them see all of the parts. It was a slow build, but that was good because it gave the students ownership of what was happening.”
Borgendale has seen the tank’s impact reach far beyond science lessons. “The first thing that we always want to get is [student] attention and excitement of something different in the classroom,” he said. “When there is something different that grabs your interest, learning just happens.”
The other skill the tank teaches is responsibility. “The kids learn how to take care of the fish and what they have to do to take care of this pet,” said Borgendale. “As 10-year-olds, the kids may not remember a lot of what happens here in fifth grade later on in life, but this will be something that will stick with them and really create those impactful memories.”
Ultimately, the aquatics tank is a learning opportunity for all students at Deephaven. Other classes have been able to visit the tank, both formally and informally. “I have kindergarteners that pop in everyday who want to check out the fish tank,” said Borgendale. “It's really about the relationships we can build, especially with younger students. Connecting to more caring adults is really important, so that by the time they reach fifth grade, I already know them and they already know me. It's something positive that can have an influence in their lives and school experience.”
Borgendale is grateful for the support from the Minnetonka Foundation and looks forward to the aquarium’s progress, including the addition of more fish in the near future.