Grow Vegetables and Fish at your school.... Demonstrate Science in a practical way.
A fun and interesting project.
Aquaponics is Spoken Here.
Aquaponics in Education

Aquaponics information and Aquaponic Systems and Hardware

Strawberries grown in a "Tower" made from 90mm PVC pipe.

Redclaw grown in a School Aquaponics System.
Photo by Dave Downing.

Lettuce and other greens being grown in a School Aquaponics System.
Photo by Dave Downing

Aquaponics in a School Setting
If you have ever owned, or observed, an aquarium you would know that there is a fair amount of work involved in keeping the water clear and the fish healthy. This is not surprising when you consider that all the uneaten food and fish waste have nowhere to go and as a result build up within the aquarium. In an attempt to remove the build up of material and poisons in the water complicated, and often expensive, filtration systems are fitted to the aquarium, and a rigorous cleaning programme is followed. All this is done in order to compensate for that which would have happened in nature, where the 'waste' materials are used up by other organisms and plants, and in doing so they purify the water.

Simply put, aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. The mineral rich water from the tank (aquarium) is pumped through a hydroponic 'grow bed' where, through biological action, ammonia is turned into nitrate and then absorbed by the plants. By the time the water leaves the grow bed and returns to the fish tank it has had almost all the minerals and nitrates removed and is once again clean.

The extent to which a school will make use of an aquaponics system will depend on a number of factors. For example I could have made extensive use of an outdoor, large aquaponics system in South Africa when I taught in a rural school. There I would have used it demonstrate various principals taught in technology, the life cycle of plants, the structure of plants, how to make effective use of recycled materials, low tech/high yield gardening, ecological issues, and sustainable farming, amongst others. The main drive would have been in educating the students to be self sufficient and in so doing also grow healthy vegetables and fish.

However, here in Australia the driving force behind having an aquaponics system on the school grounds (or in the classroom) might be a lot different as the need to feed large numbers of third world people is not as pressing within our boarders. Instead, it could be used to demonstrate in real time how the nitrate cycle works (for the high school), Parts of the seed, germination of seed (under various conditions when exploring fair tests) and growth rate of seedlings(once again when exploring fair tests).

Various plants from the 12 phyla in the plant kingdom could be grown in the aquaponics system as well, which would make studying the plant kingdom a lot easier. Now, if you plant 'useful' plants (herbs, vegetables, fruit bearing plants, medicinal plants etc.) you further extend the usefulness of such a system.

There have been numerous news articles about healthy schools in the past 2 years or so. Aquaponic systems lend themselves to this too as any herbs, vegetables or fruit you grow in such a system would be purely organic, and fresh!

I know that many people don't understand how it is possible to discourage insects from your crop without using pesticides, which means that students and parents could both be educated in the use of companion planting to discourage insects or to attract butterflies and bees.

I have had numerous students ask me to explain how just planting some sorts of plants together will result in insects being discouraged from visiting a particular garden... This very question could be used to stimulate an investigation by students which would mean looking up information on the net, in libraries, talking to farmers, ecological groups etc... As you can see the skills students would put into practice keeps growing, allowing for numerous opportunities for skill development and assessment of their development in those areas.

There are also definite links to being a Reef Guardian School in the (responsible) way you can run an aquaponics system. There is a reduction in the amount of water you would use, the water you use is continuously being recycled, no fertilisers are used (which often land up being washed into local streams) and you are able to use less land to grow more vegetables than with conventional gardening too. The fish you stock could be a local species, so you could even do a rear and release programme to try help combat issues such as Tilapia infestations in our local waterways and give our local fish species a fighting chance.

Manual arts (Metalwork and woodwork) students could be involved as well when it comes to helping to design and build the actual aquaponic system. It would give students an opportunity to use CAD software, then to realise their designs and evaluate them for themselves.

As you can see for yourself there are numerous uses for an aquaponic system within a school, and I have only just scratched the surface so far. The main limiting factors as to how much use would be made of an aquaponics system would be budget constraints (which could be overcome by community grants etc.) curriculum demands and just how involved teachers are prepaired to be. The teacher's involvement is often more of a limiting factor than anything else as students pick up on a teacher's attitude easily, and if they are not interested, the students wont be either. Using an aquaponics system to its full potential would perhaps mean rewriting some work programes, but once done the kids would benefit from real time, hand on learning.

So come on, give it a go. Aquaponics is definitely a system where the more you put in, the more you get out!

Dave Downing
Peace Lutheran College

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