GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — An after-school club is giving students a unique learning experience as they play a role in maintaining an alternative food production system.
Aquaponics gives students a hands-on learning experience while hitting some of those core STEM subjects like math, chemistry, biology, and engineering.
This combination of learning develops students into critical thinkers, innovators, and increases their science literacy according to experts.
“This system has been such a learning experience for our students here at Newell over the three years that we’ve had it,” said Integration Specialist Krystal Spilger.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics into one food growing system.
Six fifth-grade students participate in this after-school program on Thursdays at Newell, each having a partner and specific job.
“They each bring their own talent. One thing I’ve discovered is I don’t assign them their job, they choose their job,” stated Spilger.
Based on their interests, students could choose to be chemists, biologists, or agricultural engineers.
“We have to plant mostly outside and bring them inside, let them grow, and then we clean the plant’s roots and put them back into the top of the system,” said Agricultural Engineer Janessa Remdon.
The agricultural engineers plant the seeds using dehydrated coconut husks.
According to Remdon, they avoid using real soil because it can contaminate the system and hurt the fish.
“We help keep the tank clean inside and out, we also feed Bubbles and take care of her,” said Biologist Bailey Harris.
The biologists also fill the tank and pump out fish excretions to keep a chemical balance.
“We test the PH, Ammonia, and Nitrate. We also test the nitrites sometimes,” said Chemist John Lien.
The chemists ensure there is a correct balance of chemicals for the plants and fish to survive.
Spilger said the students have learned skills related to their jobs but also skills like communication, problem solving, and responsibility.
“It’s a teamwork effort and it really works best with having a partner that does that job right with them, so they can communicate back and forth, they can talk about what they are finding out and they can also learn from one another,” said Spilger.
They’ve also learned a lesson about bullying after another fish had joined Bubbles in the tank.
“I like to watch Bubbles swim around and then something very unexpected happened. I was here with some friends and the bigger fish attacked Bubbles,” stated Harris.
Spilger said she took Bubbles out of the tank and contemplated what to do and took her to a veterinarian for care.
Bubbles are alone again in the tank as the students continue learning the importance of aquaponics and the future it could have in farming.
“A lot of people have to use it around the world because their soil might not be so healthy,” said Remdon.
Agricultural Engineer Jadyn Barnett added, “Planting the plants helps people with their food if it’s not healthy enough for them to eat, so an aquaponics system with plants helps people not to starve or anything.”
With summer break right around the corner, Spilger hopes the students can come to the school with her to care for Bubbles and the aquaponics system, but that decision is up to the GIPS Pandemic Team.
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