Fish hatchery’s new app encourages learning

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — Visitors to the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in Spearfish can now become “agents of discovery.”

“We’re really excited about that,” said Archivist April Gregory, who assisted in creating the hatchery’s version of the Agents of Discovery, an interactive, educational technology platform.

The free app is up and running and can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet. Users assume the roles of secret “agents” on a “mission” as they complete challenges specific to the location. For example, at the Spearfish hatchery, users are challenged to correctly identify various kinds of trout; “throw” honeycomb to catch a pollinator; answer questions about the history of the hatchery, natural and cultural history of the area, fish culture, and specific displays and building at the hatchery, such as the Booth House, rail car or museum.

The app uses geolocation, so as people walk the grounds, the app scans their location and brings ups nearby “challenges” to complete, which appear as icons to click on. Directions are provided at each step, and Gregory told the Black Hills Pioneer that the app is currently designed for young people, elementary-aged and older. However, everyone can use the app and will likely learn something as they complete challenges.

Gregory said the hatchery has long desired such an interactive tool, especially during the months when the buildings on the hatchery grounds are not open, as the interactive technology provides an additional venue for people to learn about the hatchery beyond the interpretive signs posted outside. It also aids in getting people to explore the entire grounds beyond the fishponds to see all of the hatchery’s offerings.

Carlos Martinez, hatchery director, said staff continue to see many people geocache and play Pokemon Go, an augmented reality mobile game that allows users to explore real locations in their search for Pokemon, on the hatchery grounds. The Agents of Discovery website said ?research? into the trend of Pokemon Go shows a strong capacity of game-based learning, so the platform leverages similar technological concepts to help young people engage with the natural world.

“Further research at Cornell University has ?found? that children exposed to nature before the age of 11 are more likely to care about the environment as adults,” it describes.

“It’s a privilege to empower kids to learn about the world around them,” said Mary Clark, CEO of Discovery Agents, in a prepared statement. “Getting young people excited about our environment is the best part of my job.”

Martinez said the app “meshes” the interactive online experience with getting people outside, and the hatchery staff hopes people will take the opportunity to check out the app while visiting the hatchery. Completing missions can earn participants a free bag of fish food at the Pond Shop during open hours, as well.

Gregory added that once people download the free app, they can use it anytime they are visiting public lands, national parks or museums that have a presence on Agents of Discovery. D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives is the first Fish and Wildlife Service facility to get on the platform, joining various Forest Service and National Park Service sites and more.