Aquaponics 101

Adding-Tilapia-to-HS-Hydroponics

I’m assisting Oconomowoc High School with the aquaponics system in their greenhouse. So far we have set up two systems with 50 tilapia in one tank and 50 perch in a second tank. We are facing some challenges with our systems from the heat that is building when the outside temperature reaches 70 degrees or above. Tilapia need a water temperature of about 80 degrees, while perch need a water temperature of about 70 degrees. Our greenhouse reaches over 90 degrees and can see temperatures of 110. Before the weather gets too warm we need to find a way to keep the water cool enough for the fish to survive. Enter Travis. Travis is a second shift custodian at the high school and has significant experience in building aquaponics systems. I sat down with him over lunch the other day and was very impressed by his knowledge and experience. Travis has a high school diploma but has so much knowledge that I thought he had a college degree. Travis has had much hands on experience fabricating and problem solving over 150 aquaponic systems. I asked Travis if he had a degree. His response was that he just had a high school diploma but he picked up a lot of money and expertise doing side aquaponics jobs. He also has sought out many experts and used collaboration to build his knowledge.

Our discussion just reinforced my belief that we need more individuals with the ability to fabricate, and to use their hands to build projects that solve problems. I’m very impressed by his ability to think out of the box. After about an hour of talking, we had a solution to our overheating problem. It struck me that what Travis is doing is just the thing I want my students to do. Think out of the box, collaborate, seek expert advice, problem solve. The world could use more people like Travis!

Transform Your Teaching by Thinking Backwards with Seth Godin

Podcasts

I have recently become a podcast addict. I use the app Podcast Addict which just feeds my hobby. Yes, I now call it a hobby. It’s feeding my mind in a way that books used to {pre-kid days}. I still read, but not with the voracity that I used to. Now, I can fill my brain with quality words and ideas all while scrubbing my dishes or working on my design work. It’s another way to boost my creativity and inspire me.

I have a few podcasts that I’ve really begun to love, but in an effort to avoid getting in a rut listening to the same four podcasts, I began exploring other options.  I began with Creative Mornings and speaker Seth Godin.

Friends, are you trying to make a dent in the world? Are you trying to do work that matters? Work that fulfills you? Then watch the videos linked below now. I realize they are marketing and design focused, but these matter to you as a parent, an educator, a human being who is wanting to create or encourage the children in the world or yourself to create.

As I began listening, these two quotes from Seth Godin in these talks struck a me deep in my soul – and not in a good way:

…What they [industrialists] needed from workers were people willing to sit still for 10 hours, use a number 2 pencil, and follow instructions.

We were trained from the time we were three to ‘Do what we were told’“.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that. I don’t want that for my son. I don’t want that for our classrooms. I don’t want that for teachers teaching. I might have lofty goals  to #takebacktheclassroom and #takebacklearning but I believe our teachers and students have the right to learn in creativity-fostering, safe environments. It’s why we believe in Maker Spaces so much here at Brain Brigade. It’s what we live, think, breathe, feel, make, do. We help other teachers build Maker Spaces in their classrooms. We help homeschoolers build Maker Spaces at home. We make at home in our spare time and encourage our children and family members to ask, think, question, explore and more.

Watch & listen to Seth Godin here and then listen closely to his Q&A, and then if you can’t get enough, check him out on this podcast station. While in the Q&A a person asks a question specific to education at 16:50. LISTEN to it. {Here’s the manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams he refers to}.

Create an environment where not only is it safe to fail, but it is required to fail.” Seth Godin

Are you doing that for your students? Are you allowing them to fail? That is what a Maker Space is all about. Students must fail. They must take risks. And our job as educators is to create an environment that is safe for our students to fail. That’s it. It’s why we do what we do.

It’s how we’re taking back our classrooms. It’s how we’re exchanging those number two pencils for hands on learning. It’s how we’re breaking the mold and how we want to help you break that mold in your own classroom and world.

What’s keeping you from scary work? What might get you fired? Run out of town? Encourage you to take risks? If you don’t know where to start, then contact us using the form listed on the About Us page. We want you to you be confident in changing your classroom and changing your world.

Maker Spaces: Appleton Maker Space Tour

Last week I traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin and visited the MakerSpace located there. It was located in a small building behind a hair salon. It is a great place for members to tinker, fabricate and collaborate in making projects that appeal to them. Each month members pay a fee to have access to all of the equipment, materials and storage located in the space. The president of the organization, Chris, gave me a tour. There were several large work areas for woodworking, metal work, electronics, planning and storage. All were equipped with the machines for an inventor to do hands on learning.

A maker space is a great space to have access to all of the various machines needed to invent at a fraction of the cost of purchasing these on your own. There were lathes, saws, planers, welders, drill presses, and many more machines that could be useful for anyone wishing to be creative. I really liked their planning room that had a floor to ceiling whiteboard that was 12 feet wide and 8 feet wide. Members can use the board for drawing, creating lists or planning a project.

Chris introduced me to one of the members who is building an airplane in the space. He had the frame and wheels already made and was working on the wings. It reminded me of the old days when early flight pioneers made airplanes in their garages.

Craft Stick Truss Bridgeu

These are the kinds of spaces that we need in schools! We don’t need
all of the fancy and expensive equipment, but we do need areas where students can invent, create, fabricate, and experience failure and success. A corner of a classroom with craft sticks, glue guns, wires, light bulbs, and any number of inexpensive items helps children use their hands and minds to invent. Let’s get away from this culture of constant testing and get back to the real world!

Hydroponics 101.3: The Circulation Method

Hydroponics-101

Picking up where we left off in our Hydroponics series… The circulation method of hydroponics is ideal for you if you have a few more dollars to spend (as compared to the more limited Kratky Method) and you would like your students to make a hydroponic system in the classroom. It is a great way to integrate the engineering design process and STEM into your curriculum as well as offer authentic learning to your class. It also offers you a way of integrating principles of chemistry and physics into your curriculum.


 

We’re currently in a series exploring Hydroponics and Aquaponics.
{Read the previous entries here Hydroponics 101.1 and Hydroponics 101.2}


 

In the circulation method, you need to provide a nutrient trough for the plants to bathe their roots in. This can be done in many ways. Two methods that I have worked with are a floating bed system and a rail system. With both systems I had great success.

Circulation-Method1

With the floating bed system, have your students construct a sturdy box of 2×4 lumber about two feet wide and four feet long. Attach a piece of plywood on the bottom and drill a hole for a bulkhead attachment to allow water to drain from the bed to a reservoir below the bed. Next, place a rubber pond liner inside the box and cut a small hole in the liner to match up with the hole you drilled earlier. Screw down the bulkhead and tighten it so that water will not leak out of the box. Now cut 2 inch holes into a piece of ½ inch thick pink Styrofoam insulation board. I used a 2 inch circular hole saw in a drill bit and ran the drill BACKWARDS so that the Styrofoam was not shredded.

Circulation-Method2

Now you are ready to fill the reservoir with water. I use a large plastic container (about 25 gallons) with a small aquaponics pump on the bottom and a hose running up to my growing bed. I fill the reservoir with water, add my nutrient solution, turn on the pump and circulate the water. Monitor the water height in the bed so that when you add your plant cups their roots are touching the water. I also would recommend you add a PVC pipe below by attaching it to the bulkhead with a PVC fitting so that water flows back to the reservoir.

Next we’ll explore light requirements, planting and monitoring your system.

Hydroponics 101.2: The Kratky Method

Hydroponics-101

Hydroponics gives your students an opportunity for hands on, authentic learning that is novel, STEM related and gives them a chance to tinker. We’re currently exploring Hydroponics and Aquaponics in a blog series (read Hydroponics 101.1).

Choosing the container that you wish to use for your hydroponic system is crucial. There are two ways that you can approach this. You can either place your plant in a container that has no water and nutrient movement which is Kratky method) or you can re-circulate the water continuously using a pump and aerator. Which method you choose depends on your space and budget.

Hydroponics-for-Classroom-or-Home

With either method, you should begin your plants two to three weeks before transplanting them into your hydroponic system.

In the Kratky method you mix your nutrients in water and fill a container. Next, you prevent light from shining on the solution by duct taping or painting the container, then you cut a hole in the top of the container for your plant basket and you set the plant into the container with some of the roots not immersed in the liquid so they can get oxygen from the air. The upside is that you can grow lettuce and quick maturing plants in about 30 days. The downside is that the nutrient solution will run out or will begin to smell after about a month because no aeration of the solution takes place. This method is simple.

It is very important not to let light hit the solution or algae will begin to grow and use up all of the nutrients meant for your plant. This method is great for windowsill gardens or in small spaces that receive sunlight most of the day.

Hydroponics-101pt2

I’ve noticed some differences with each method. First, root development is much greater in the circulation method and plants do grow a bit larger (see photo comparison). Secondly, the nutrient solution can be used for a longer period of time due to aeration. I have eaten my lettuce from both systems and both salads tasted very good.

Next week I will tackle a circulating system. But before then we’ll be posting on adding fish to our high school aquaponics system!

Breaking Out: When Schools Stifle Creative Teachers

Compliance: the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion (Webster). I met with a fellow award-winning educator on Monday who was a wonderful teacher with a creative mind in the classroom. She developed lessons on financial literacy for children in grades k-8. She received awards for her work and was well-known throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.

This teacher was also a presenter for other teachers who wished to adopt her lessons for use in their classrooms. She had three personal days to use during the school year and would go out and do workshops on those days. For each workshop she was given a $200 stipend for an all day workshop and the conference paid the school district to cover the cost of her sub. The following school year her administrator told her that she would only be able to do the workshops on her personal days if she would turn over the $200 to the school district.

It seems sometimes that school districts are their own worst enemies. That they want to lock their teachers in a room and force them to comply with only what the district wants. This attitude on the part of some districts only serves to force good teachers from the classroom and into other professions where they can exercise their creativity.

CreativityTakesCourage

Instead of touting and encouraging their success and creativity they instead stifle it and restrict their staff. 

How can we expect students to bloom, create, and be productive in an atmosphere where staff are only expected to comply with silly regulations?

Ken Robinson speaks about this stifling of creativity in his TED talk entitled “Education’s Death Valley”. If you have 20 minutes listen to it.

My friend has since left teaching and is forging out on her own. She now controls what she does and is paid for what she wants to do. The school district has lost a great educator. I wish her the best.

Theory Thursday: Aquaponics Helping to Promote Student Engagement

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I am volunteering about three hours per week at our local high school and setting up an aquaponics system with their FFA group. I spoke with the teacher, Marge, after class today and she complemented me on how much more on task the boys in the group are since we began the project. Marge said even the district administrator has noticed a difference. I don’t think that it is me, but rather the philosophy of learning by doing. Any time you give kids a task that has them learning hands-on it becomes much more engaging.

If you want to promote STEM or STEAM, allow kids to DO the work of science.

Sure, we have made mistakes and we have had fits and restarts in building the aquaponics tank structure and leveling it, but with each mistake and restart they have gained experience and knowledge. The class is learning about pH, ammonia concentration, nitrite and nitrate production by various bacteria and how to be careful with an ecosystem. Even adding treated city water to the system can change the  bacterial count.

It is nice to see the enthusiasm shown by the kids in taking charge of the project. We are currently cycling the water to produce nitrates from nitrites by adding ammonia to the system. This prepares the system for the arrival of our 100 tilapia in two weeks. By growing bacteria in the system, it will be ready for fish (that will produce ammonia in the form of urine).

Our system has two 175 gallon tanks that are connected by a siphon. The water from the two tanks is pumped into two grow beds filled with Hydrocorn clay pellets that filter out the fish solids. These two beds have just been planted with over 150 lettuce plants. We are also adding a floating bed of about 28 square feet. Watch for more updates!