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22.3 Aquaponics in Primary Schools

5 months ago

7 min read

According to the International Standard Classification of Education (UNESCO-UIS 2012), primary education (or elementary education in American English) at ISCED level 1 (first 6 years) is typically the first stage of formal education. It provides children from the age of about 5—12 with a basic understanding of various subjects, such as maths, science, biology, literacy, history, geography, arts, and music. It is therefore designed to provide a solid foundation for learning and understanding core areas of knowledge, as well as personal and social development. It focuses on learning at a basic level of complexity with little, if any, specialization. Educational activities are often organized with an integrated approach rather than providing instruction in specific subjects.

The educational aim at ISCED level 2 (further 3 years) is to lay the foundation for lifelong learning and human development upon which education systems may then expand further educational opportunities. Programs at this level are usually organized around a more subject-oriented curriculum.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF 2018), providing children with primary education has many positive effects, including increasing environmental awareness.

At primary school age, children's rich but naïve understandings of the natural world can be built on to develop their understanding of scientific concepts. At the same time, children need carefully structured experiences, taking into account their prior knowledge, instructional support from teachers, and opportunities for sustained engagement with the same set of ideas over longer periods (Duschl et al. 2007). One way of providing sustained and continuous engagement can be through the building, management, and maintenance of an aquaponics.

Fig. 22.2 (a) Opening ceremony in the school of Älandsbro, (b) The simple aquaponics at Älandsbro, (c) Older students making observations for the "Recirculation Book," (d) Model built by the younger students during an arts class

Key advice for introducing aquaponics to primary school students is as follows:

  • Low-tech and robust classroom systems favor the engagement of both the teacher and the students and are most effective for this stage of education (Example 22.1, Fig. 22.2b).
  • Productivity is not a central issue but demonstrating the laws of nature (cycling of nutrients, energy flow, population dynamics, and interactions within the ecosystem) is. Therefore, sufficient effort needs to be put into developing learning materials to meet the goals of the curriculum.
  • From an educational point of view, understanding the chemical, physical, and natural processes in an aquaponics, albeit through trial and error, is more important than achieving a perfectly run system.
  • Include a wide range of activities: drawing the plants and animals, keeping a class journal, measuring the water quality, monitoring the fish (size, weight, and wellbeing), feeding the fish, cooking the produce, role playing, writing, prose, poetry, and song.

Example 22.1 Aquaponics at Älandsbro skola, Primary School (Sweden)

The 10-month project, which was a part of the FP6 project “Play with Water,” started with an opening ceremony in September (Fig. 22.2a) and ended before the summer holidays. Several teachers and about 90–100 students aged between 9 and 12 years were involved and were very enthusiastic about the project. The school used readily available materials to create two simple tabletop systems with an aquarium, fish and plants (Fig. 22.2b). Before the start of the learning activities, the students filled in a questionnaire (see the section on Assessment), which was then repeated at the end of term. After an introduction to aquaponics, the students planted the system and populated it with fish.

A diary, called a “Recirculation Book,” was kept for each aquarium. Students made daily notes about the systems (Fig. 22.2c). They recorded the pH, temperature, nitrate and nitrite concentrations, the length of the plants, the activity of the fish, and when they added food and water into the system. They also made drawings and described any significant events, which occurred.

Different classes in the school then had different weeks where they took over daily responsibility for the systems. The younger students took care of one system, while the second system was used by the older children.

The aquaponic units were used for teaching different subjects. The younger students worked with the concept of recirculation by building cardboard models of an aquaponics, with tubes, pumps, fish, and plants (Fig. 22.2d). They also worked with paintings, drama, and music in order to increase their understanding of the relationship between the plants and the fish.

The older students collected information about pH, temperature, nitrate, nitrite, and other changes in the “Recirculation Book.” They were pursuing different themes, for example: (i) the water cycle in a global perspective; (ii) the everyday use of water in a house; (iii) the different appearances, smells, and tastes of water; (iv) fish biology and ecology; (v) other ecological recirculation systems; and (vi) the importance of water on a global scale. They also taught the younger pupils, for example, by explaining recirculation systems, or demonstrating small experiments.

For the evaluation, see Sect. 22.8.1.2.

Example 22.2 Two-day Aquaponic-Centered Course in Waedenswil, Switzerland

Over 2 days, 16 students (aged 13–14 years) and their teacher from the Gerberacher School visited the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) campus in Waedenswil, where an undergraduate student had prepared a two-day program about the importance of water using aquaponics as a focus (Fig. 22.6). Learning progression was assessed by means of a questionnaire (pre-activity and post-activity).

uDay 1:/u

  • Welcome address, explanation of the course schedule.
  • Knowledge test (what do students know about aquaculture, recycling, plant nutrition, ecosystems, etc.)
  • The concept of “systems” explained through simple analogy with hammer as an example of a system (The hammer is made of two parts: the handle and the head. If the parts are separated, the hammer cannot function. So, the hammer is more than just the sum of its parts, it is a system.)
  • Assessment of the understanding of systems before the teaching unit: What is a system? Fill in the gap text.
  • Introduction to aquaponics and ecosystems. The students learn what an ecosystem is and understand that individual systems are integrated into it.
  • Visit to the demonstration aquaponics (Fig. 22.3a).
  • Expanding the knowledge: The importance of proteins in food. Discuss and fill in the gap text.
  • Expanding the knowledge: The benefits of a closed water cycle (Discuss and fill in the Worksheet).
  • Practical work: Construction of two simple aquaponics, adding plants (basil), measuring nitrite and pH.
  • Basics of tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and basil, Ocimum basilicum biology.
  • Global importance of water (Role-playing game, Worksheets).
  • Time for questions.

uDay 2:/u

  • Why is water conservation necessary? How many people perish due to lack of drinking water? (Mathematics Task).
  • Measure the pH and nitrite content in the aquaria. Students learn how to carry out an Aqua-Test and what the values indicate.
  • Answer repetition questions (Card game with rewards, Worksheets).
  • Practical work: Transfer tilapia from the aquarium to the aquaponics. Feed the fish. Fill in the fish observation sheet.
  • Draw a poster of Aquaponics, explaining the important terms (Fig. 22.3b). • Final knowledge test and evaluation of the learning unit (see also Sect. 22.8.1.3).

Fig. 22.3 (a) Students from the sixth grade of Gerberacher School visiting the demonstration aquaponics at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (Waedenswil, Switzerland). (b) A poster designed by the same students, explaining the basics of aquaponics