Aquaponics USA

Aquaponics STEM Classrooms In Action, Part 2

urbanfarmer@aquaponicsusa.com

760-671-3053

Part 2: When the Davis Bilingual Elementary students came back from their Christmas break in 2012, they got a big surprise because their Library had gone through a drastic change. About one third of their original Library had disappeared, the carpet was torn out, the floor was painted green and in place of shelves of books was a 44 sq. ft. Aquaponics STEM Food Growing System. It was a really big surprise!

In these photos, you can see two of the Aquaponics USA System Installers along with Claudio Rodriquez (foreground above) from the Arizona Community Food Bank bringing in and working on the finishing touches of the STEM Food Growing System in the Davis Library. This STEM System was purchased at the same time as the Manzo STEM (Part 1) System through a Grant that was obtained by Zotero Citlalcoatl, the School & Community Garden Coordinator for the Arizona Community Food Bank with the backing of Feeding America.

Mrs. Chery Schrader-Gerken, the Librarian at the time, hosted us as we carried in all the parts and pieces and spent several hours putting the STEM System together. Little did she know at the time that the subject of Aquaponics was about to take over her Library just like it had taken over our lives when we discovered it in late 2008. Like Moses and Blue from Part 1, Cheryl, who is no longer at Davis Elementary, was a real tropper, learning Aquaponics for herself and then whole-heartedly teaching it to her Davis Elementary students.

Here Cheryl is helping one of her students bravely touch the tilapia fingerling that's in the net being held by Professor Aecio D'Silva.  Professor D'Silva is the CEO of Moura Enterprises. He is a Consultant, Professor, Research Scientist and a worldwide reference in Integrated Sustainable, AquaBioPonics, AquafuelPonics Systems and Humanitarian programs. As part of his Humanitarian mission, he took teachers and students of both Davis and Manzo Elementary Schools under his wing to consult with them on how to run their STEM Food Growing Systems, which he referred to as the "Cadillac Model" among Aquaponics Food Growing Systems.

In the picture on the right is Mr.Julian Barcelos who also stepped up to the plate to help Cheryl successfully teach the Davis students how to run their STEM Food Growing System that landed so abruptly in her Library on that cool day in late December of 2011.

Here Julian is placing the first plant, basil, into one of the four 11 sq. ft. Grow Beds of the Davis STEM Food Growing System under the tutledge of Professor Aecio D'Silva. In the next photo, taken later, after Professor D'Silva has gone, the older students work with their STEM Aquaponics System in wraped attention with their very studious clip boards in tow. This image is a STEM Teacher's dream and a drastic contrast to regular classrooms with bored students sitting at desks day dreaming. Davis Elementary has named their Aquponics project, AquaBioPonics in honor of their mentor, Professor Aecio D'Silva.

The Davis students were so eager to have fish in their fish tank that they started their program with gold fish. But within a few months, they had an official Aquaponics system with a tank full of fast growing tilapia fingerlings. It appears that one girl student was so thrilled with her STEM Food Growing System she even brought in her own pink fish net for catching tilapia, which isn't an easy task. In fact, tilapia are so fast that we often refer to the possibility that they have transporter technology, which can transport them from one side of the tank to the other in the blink of an eye.

Tilapia are the most common fish for Aquaponics systems because they are so hardy and can withstand beginner water quality errors. They can even live for several hours if the aerators that deliver oxygen to their tank stop working. Yes, fish need oxygen and will die without it.

The student on the left is preparing to do water quality measurements. Two of the shelves in the book shelf cabinet are being used to hold the Water Quality Measuring Kit that comes with a STEM Food Growing System. One shelf holds the testing vials and the other allows for a place to do the testing.

In the picture on the right, the student has already shaken her vial and is holding it up to the light to see the color. Speaking of color, she's surrounded by the remaining Library full of colorful books in this unusual shared environment.

The darker the color of the fish tank water in the vial, the more Nitrates are in the system. Nitrates are one of three important things that need to be measured often. The other two are Ammonia and Nitrites. You don't want high Ammonia or Nitrites because they are toxic to fish. The fastest way to kill fish is to let them swim around in their own waste. Ammonia comes from the fish urine through their gills and the break down of their effluent and left over fish food.

The beauty of an Aquaponics system is the balance between the fish and the plants because they are in a symbiotic relationship with one another. The fish need the plants to clean the water for them as the plants take up the Nitrates, and the plants need the fish waste, which breaks down into Nitrates to fertilize the plants with nutrient rich water. Ideally, you never throw out the water in an Aquaponics system because it's a recirculating aquaculture system. You do need to add water on a regular basis due to evaporation and palnt uptake.

Pictured above are members of the Davis Bilingual Elementary School Aquaponics Club. According to Ashley, "every morning before school begins, we hold an aquaponics club where kids from kindergarten through fifth grade run our Aquaponics system. In Aquaponics Club, we feed our talapia, test the pH, Nitrates, Nitrites, and Ammonia levels of our fish tank, trim and harvest the vegetables, create Aquaponics related art projects, clean the Aquaponics water delivery rings and fill up the fish tank. We also do a monthly food day where we fry fish from our Aquaponics tank, make green smoothies from Aquaponics greens, or make homemade fruit juice."

Davis ordered their STEM Food Growing System with Fluorescent Grow Lights, which are drop shipped separate from the System. Fluorescent Grow Lights will only grow leafy greens like lettuce, swiss chard, bok choy, basil, cilantro etc. If a school wants to grow flowering plants like tomatoes, squash, melons, cucumbers and they are running an indoor system, they need to order LED Grow Lights. The metal swing like Fluorescent Grow Light holders that have been fastened to the wooden Grow Bed tables have been designed by someone at Davis and are not offered with our systems. We let the schools determine how they want to hang their lights. The handy little stools that the girls are standing on to get to the Grow Beds are available at Home Depot and not included with the STEM Food Growing Systems.

These two photos are close ups of members of the Aquaponics Club working in two of the Grow Beds. The red pebbles you see in the Grow Beds are called expanded clay and they function as the Grow Bed Media. There is no soil in an Aquaponics Grow Bed. These Grow Beds are called Deep Media Beds because they are about 12 inches deep and contain a 50/50 ratio of expanded clay to water. The Media functions to hold the plants in place as well as to provide lots of surface area for the friendly bacteria to populate. Aquaponics systems grow fish, plants and friendly bacteria that break down the fish effluent and turn it into Nitrates for the plants.

In the photo on the left, two students from the Aquaponics Club are teaching their fellow students about the Nitrogen Cycle complete with a pointer and very serious faces. They are surrounded by books in this Library turned STEM Food Growing System Lab. When you consider this is an Elementary School, this photo becomes quite impressive.

Another student in the photo on the right is teaching about "Plants in Aquaponics" from a drawing she did that's taped onto the end of a Library book shelf. Her graphic teaching tool is almost as tall as she is.

According to Ashley, the School Garden Coordinator, during the school day the Aquaponics system is used as a tool for learning about ecosystems, micro-organisms, food production, and much more!" While some students are interacting directly with their STEM Food Growing System, other students are sharing their knowledge through graphic and informative presentations to fellow students.

In conclusion, we can't forget the monthly "Food Day" where the Davis Aquaponics Club Members have a fish fry and make green smoothies from the greens they grow in their STEM Food Growing System.

Like real farmers, these ladies aren't at all squemish about having killed and prepared this tilapia for Food Day.

Truth be told, tilapia have been feeding humans for thousands of years going all the way back to ancient Egypt where their native habitat was the Nile River.

Tilapia also swam in the Sea of Galilee and were known as "Amnoon" in Hebrew which means Mother Fish. This Mother Fish has laid down her life to feed her children who raised and cared for her. It's the circle of life and another lesson from the STEM Food Growing System Library/Lab at Davis Bilingual Elementary.

According to the Davis Bilingual Elementary website's Aquaponics Page:

"We have seen an amazing change in our students’ eating habits through our Aquaponics and Garden Program. Where once it was “cool” to NOT like green things, now we see the reverse; it is “cool” to LIKE green things!"

And the look on this little angel's face says it all. So does Ashley's final statement:

"The aquaponics system at Davis Bilingual Elementary is an extraordinary asset to our school and we are truly grateful to have it."

Isn’t it time to turn every school campus into this joyful, exciting, engaged and interactive experience called STEM Food Growing System Learning?

If you want to learn more about what's happening at Davis, go to the Gardening & AquaBioPonics at Davis Elementary facebook page. This is living learning also known as Science in Action and things are always changing.

To Learn More about bringing a STEM Food Growing System into your classroom, click on our "Bring Your Classroom To Life!" document below. It will tell and show you everything you need to know to create an Aquaponics STEM classroom.

What Is Aquaponics? Aquaponics is a food growing technolgy that utilizes live fish to fertilize vegetables and fruits in a cross-linked ecosystem where the fish fertilize the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish.

STEM Food Growing Systems integrate Plant and Fish Biology with Chemistry, Math and Engineering. It's STEM Education that actually deals with stems.

Here's what Aquaponics STEM Teachers have to share direct from the field where they are using our STEM Food Growing Systesm to teach their Aquaponics STEM Classes.

This is a 3-Part Series that's being published in the STEM Education Coalition Weekly Newsletter. The STEM Education Coalition Newsletter is an amazing resource to keep you up to date about what's happening with STEM in schools across the nation and in State and Government administrations and agencies.

Fast forward to the present time and Cheryl is no longer working as a combo Librarian and Aquaponics Teacher at Davis Bilingual Elementary. Now there's a School Garden Coordinator who came on staff in August of 2016. She is Ashley Edgette, pictured on the left. Ashley graduated with a BS in Political Science and Environmental Studies in 2013 and says she's loving her new job. "It is such a joy to be learning with kids out in the garden and inside with food making, art, science projects and Aquaponics." 

Thank you for visiting our "Aquaponics STEM Classrooms In Action, Part 1 Page". Watch for Part 2 in the STEM Education Coalition Newsletter and remember to check out our "Aquaponics in The Classroom", our "Where To Get an Aquaponics Grant" and our "STEM Resourses" Pages and feel free to give us a call at 760-671-3053 or email us at urbanfarmer@aquaonicsusa.com

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