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An aquaponics is a perfect example of a system that can bring nature closer to a classroom and can be used as the starting point for a host of educational activities at both primary and secondary school levels. A model system, together with corresponding didactic methods, serves to make natural processes more tangible to pupils. This, in turn, helps to develop the necessary competencies for dealing with the complexity and problems of the environment, and promotes a sense of responsibility toward humanity. Creating the opportunity for hands-on experience with nature and natural elements such as water, fish, and plants also develops environmental consciousness and a greater understanding of the potential for practical solutions and a willingness to act on this knowledge.
In this chapter, we have presented various case studies of the use of aquaponics at different educational levels, and also a number of examples that assess the benefits of introducing aquaponics into schools.
While for each separate study the assessment methods were in themselves logical, and provided interesting insights, clear-cut comparisons across the studies are not practical, because the methods were not, or were only partly, comparable.
During the FP6 Project "WasteWaterResource" the pedagogical specialists in the team voiced some critical comments about using questionnaires to measure impacts on ecological awareness and behavior among students (Scheidegger and Wilhelm 2006):
In multiple choice questionnaires, students tend to provide the answers that they think the teacher would like to hear.
Children often have difficulties ranking their answers to questions such as "how was my motivation in the Aquaponic lectures?" (1: very low to 5: extremely high).
The answers are highly influenced by the teacher and the current objectives of education.
Therefore, it is questionable whether quantitative survey methods are appropriate for revealing the potential effects, and whether they provide realistic data on the perceptions of the students.
It seems to be more appropriate to focus on qualitative assessment methods such as semi-structured interviews with the teachers, or the process of self-observation according to the action research method outlined by Altrichter and Posch (2007). Teachers are practitioners who have long-term experience of dealing with students and can therefore provide better and deeper information on a potential impact than a survey can reveal. A deeper interview or dialogue with the teachers will also provide information on critical issues of the learning systems and ideas on its further development. The research question "how did the teachers perceive the material?" seems therefore to provide much more useful information than the question "what was the impact on the students?"
A key issue for the successful dissemination of new teaching units appears to be a robust integration of the units into the national school frameworks. The feedback from the schools strongly indicates that teachers have very limited time to find and initiate new ideas and teaching materials. They usually use already established information portals that provide the material in a form that corresponds to the national education plan and is ready-made for a particular school level. There is therefore a need to establish cooperation with the key players in the national pedagogical frameworks. In order to better evaluate the impacts of aquaponics on STEM subjects, environmental and other learning outcomes, a comparative study between educational institutions where they used aquaponics as a teaching tool based on the same and well-designed research methods and addressing various teaching goals would be needed.
Acknowledgments This work was partly supported by funding received from the COST Action FA1305 "The EU Aquaponics Hub—-Realising Sustainable Integrated Fish and Vegetable Production for the EU."
We acknowledge the contribution of the EU (FP6-2004-Science-and-society-11, Contract Number 021028) to the project "WasterWater Resource," and thank the entire team, especially Nils Ekelund, Snorre Nordal, and Daniel Todt.
We acknowledge the contribution of the EU (Leonardo da Vinci transfer of innovation project, Agreement Number - 2012-1-CH1-LEO05-00392) to the project Aqua-Vet, and thank the entire team, especially Nadine Antenen, Urška Kleč, Aleksandra Krivograd Klemenčič, Petra Peroci, and Uroš Strniša.