in classrooms in order to examine intergenerational learning abilities
affected by specific environmental variables. While students assume
that fish cannot learn complex tasks, fish do develop a decision hierarchy, show goal-oriented behaviors, and display both spatial and
nonspatial discrimination abilities (Wyers, 1985; Arthur & Levin,
2001). In fact, fish can be trained quickly to do even complex tasks
(view a goldfish “dribbling” a ball and “shooting” it through a hoop:
http://psheplus.blogspot.com/). While fish brain anatomy has significant differences from the mammalian brain, the areas involved in
learning and memory are both analogous (functionally similar) and
homologous (developmentally similar) to it (Salas et al., 2003). This
means that fish learning and learning deficits have parallels to mammalian behavior that are important for the students’ understanding
Goals & Objectives
Our apparatus (see Supplemental Material with the online version
of this article) enables direct observations of cognition by using
inquiry-approach methods to investigate student-driven hypotheses.
Teachers who worked with us as we developed this module have
identified numerous standards within the NGSS for which this learning and memory exercise applies (Table 1).
Students are enabled to articulate and refine their own broad
questions about cognition and environmental variables that may affect
these processes. They become acquainted with appropriate tools and
techniques to conduct a controlled learning experiment using live animals. They propose hypotheses that link their personal health to environmental hazards that will ultimately help in personal and social
decision making. Students gather and analyze data regarding cognitive
behaviors of control and experimental organisms. Finally, students
interpret these data to draw conclusions, generate explanations, and
predict trends in the effects of environmental agents on vertebrate cognition as compared to non-exposed animal models. Under teacher
supervision, students will learn how to handle chemicals (including
wearing of appropriate lab clothing), use varying chemical exposure
regimens, and properly dispose of chemicals.
Using positive punishment (agitating water near fish for wrong
choice, a method that avoids physical injury to the fish) and positive
Table 1. Comparing high school student performance expectations of the Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) to learning and memory module outcomes.
NGSS Performance Expectations Student Outcomes
HS-LS1-2: Develop and use a model to illustrate the
hierarchical organization of interaction systems that provide
specific functions at the organism system level such as
nutrient uptake, water delivery and organism movement in
response to neural stimuli.
• Students compare brain development in fish vs. human and
relate that to behavioral controls.
• Students assess interactions between sensory neurons, brain
function, and behavioral outcomes in fish and humans.
HS-LS2-7: Design, evaluate and refine a solution for reducing
the impacts of human activities on the environment and
• Students compare learning outcomes under different
chemical exposure regimens (e.g., no exposure vs. exposure
vs. exposure followed by no exposure vs. exposure followed
by treatment with detoxifying agents).
• Students compare learning outcomes using environmental
enrichment techniques of their design to overcome effects
of toxic exposures on learning.
HS-LS2-8: Evaluate the evidence for the role of group
behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and
reproduce. Emphasis is on: (1) distinguishing between group
and individual behavior, (2) identifying evidence supporting
the outcomes of group behavior, (3) developing logical and
reasonable arguments based on evidence.
• Students can design experiments to examine effect of group
vs. solitary housing on learning and memory.
• Students can design experiments in which fish are tested
individually or in groups to assess rate of learning and ability
to remember learned tasks.
HS-LS3-3: Apply concepts of statistics and probability to
support explanations that organisms with an advantageous
heritable trait tend to increase in proportion to organisms
lacking this trait. Emphasis is on analyzing shifts in numerical
distribution of traits and using these shifts as evidence to
• Students learn to breed fish (zebrafish or fathead minnows
are easiest for classroom settings).
• Students do crossbreeding to assess heritability of learning
HS-LS4-6: Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to
mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.
Emphasis is on designing solutions for a proposed problem
related to threatened or endangered species or to genetic
variation of organisms for multiple species.
• Students use techniques described above as a means to
assess interspecific comparisons.
• Students observe that mitigation techniques for one species
may have different results for other species.
• Students gain firsthand knowledge of the difficulty in
designing solutions to mitigate adverse impacts of human
activity on biodiversity.