Reeling them in

Teacher Kip Hafey uses fishing to hook students on entomology


Hafey doesn't mind wearing two hats. In fact he enjoys the different challenges that go with each position.

Hafey has helped develop an outdoor science class so popular that three sections will be offered next year to meet demand.

But he also interacts with students who wouldn't ordinarily elect to take a class like outdoor science or go out for the football team, which he coaches.

"I love being in the classroom with the kids. But as a dean, I impact kids I don't see that often and help them turn around and get them on the right track. I don't look at it as dealing with the bad kids," Hafey said.

Despite having six years experience at MCHS, Hafey looks young enough that he almost blends in with his class. The roots of his outdoor science class reach back to when he was a kid, and his father was teaching him to fly fish along the Green River, which he describes as "one of the best fisheries in the Western United States."

"Fly fishing teaches us to perform small acts of care and offers a relief from daily stress," Hafey said. "Of all the ways to catch a fish, the most exciting way is to catch it on a fly you tied yourself."

Knowledge of entomology, the study of insects, is a big help to anyone who wants to fly fish and tie their own flies.

One has to know what kind of insect the targeted fish eat and be able to tie a fly that looks enough like that insect to fool the fish.

In the fall, Hafey and his students scour the hills behind the school searching for insects. On the insect boards that hang on the wall of Hafey's classroom, the captured bugs are classified according to their order. Butterflies are Lepidoptera. Bees are Hymenoptera.

About 80 percent of the species on earth are insects, Hafey said. They are necessary for the pollination of plants, yet they cost farmers $100 billion a year in crop destruction. They can also spread diseases, Hafey said.

Scorpions can be found in the hills behind the school, and some students have found them. They're small and usually their sting is no more dangerous than that of a bee, unless an unfortunate soul is allergic to them.

Hafey doesn't allow the students to catch them. For safety's sake, he captures them in a plastic dish, and they are displayed in the dish, because even after the scorpion has died reflexive nerves still live, and the scorpion's tail can strike at the touch of a finger.

"Most kids see the insects and they get pretty excited," Hafey said. Because outdoor science is an elective, he doesn't have to struggle with students grossed out by bugs.

Once the insect collections are complete, the students choose an aquatic insect and develop a fly tying pattern to recreate that bug. Some are more successful than others, but all the students go on a trip to the Green River for a day of fly fishing.

Fly fishing is one of the fastest growing sports among girls, Hafey said. Many of his students ask for fly tying kits for Christmas.

"It makes me feel good to help them pick up a lifelong hobby. You can be 100 or just old enough to hold a fly rod," he said.

During the winter, studying aerodynamics and gravity, Hafey's students design sleds of cardboard and duct tape to ride down the hill near the school.

Like the fly patterns, some turn out better than others. This past winter, the students had to design sleds they could fit inside.

Currently, Hafey's class is training rats to study operant conditioning. Using the timeless materials of cardboard and duct tape, they've built a maze with a balance beam, hoops, a ladder and other obstacles.

During the next four weeks, students will train the rats to navigate the obstacle course.

After one month of training most rats should be able to complete the course with ease, Hafey said.

Like fly fishing, students tend to get attached to the rats, too, and many ask to take theirs home. That's when parents get involved. Hafey said he usually gets calls from parents pleading with him not to let their child take a rat home.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at

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