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!

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