A wonderful addition to any school science program is the construction and maintenance of an aquaponic garden. The advantage for schools is that aquaponics is a scalable system; it can be a small table-top endeavor or occupy a large area of the school yard or even the rooftop.
This method of aquaculture and hydroponics provides fresh fish and organic produce by efficiently recycling nutrient-rich water through a closed-loop system. Aquaponics is more sustainable that the standard garden as it only uses a fraction of the water required for conventional gardening and farming; as such, it is a drought-resistant system that can grow produce in the most arid of climates.
Classroom aquapoinics introduces students to an area of biology that most students, especially those in urban settings, have an opportunity to explore. Students are engaged in fun way to encourage a long-term commitment to sustainable agriculture and living. They directly participate in the nitrogen fixation process rather than simply reading about it in a textbook.
Beyond the basics of learning about environmental science, classroom aquaponics helps students develop reasoning, problem-solving, math, water management, seed-saving, organic pest control, chemistry, and a variety of other scientific skills. It also promotes pride of accomplishment and rewards students with a nutritious and delicious bounty of organic food.
The classroom aquaponics system can be easily be made economically sustainable, and potentially profitable, by expanding the program to allow students to sell produce and fish at the local farmers market; this will expand the teaching curriculum to include additional math skills, business, marketing, economics, accounting, public relations, health, and nutrition.
A variety of school curriculums can be explored with the aquaponics system:
- Learn about health and nutrition of various foods
- Examine the economics of selling in the marketplace
- Calculate volume and surface area of the system
- Explore the nitrogen cycle
- Explain and monitor pH
- Study the life cycle of the fish and plants
- Study aerobic and anaerobic systems and bacteria
- Experiment on which fish and plants do best
- Learn about environmental sustainability practices
- Create artistic renderings of the produce
- Design and build additions to the system
- Engage local government officials on the benefits of aquaponics
The economic cost of constructing and operating an aquaponics system is relatively low. The initial cost of a school aquaponics system is approximately $1,000 while ongoing operational costs are fairly minimal and only consist of electricity, top-up water, and fish food.