Students planted seeds in an aquaponics lab in January and harvested the organic lettuce last month. Photos courtesy of Lancaster Middle School.
April 11, 2017
LANCASTER – Elsie Robertson Lancaster Middle School STEM students dined on food they grew in the classroom at their Lettuce Harvesting Luncheon in March. The organic produce was grown using aquaponics; a skill that combines STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – and farming in order to raise fish and grow fresh produce without soil.
Students planted lettuce seeds in January then, three short months later; they were able to harvest the lettuce while raising catfish. Students served the organic lettuce to district administrators at the luncheon and showed them the planting process in the aquaponics lab.
“Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water,” Lancaster Middle School librarian Raquel Hewitt said. “Essentially students simultaneously grow and raise fish, [aquaculture], while using their waste to grow food [hydroponics].”
Lancaster Middle School is the only middle school in North Texas with an aquaponics laboratory. In support of Lancaster ISD’s vision, this course at LMS puts self-sustaining production in action while providing an interactive way to use STEM as an education tool.
“Many students don’t get this experience in suburban areas,” Lancaster ISD’s deputy superintendent of Governmental Relations and Student Affairs Lamont Smith said. “In the lab, they will get a chance to see their work bloom into a finished product, while actively using STEM.”
This hands-on class project has students excited about the possibilities.
“First off, I love food, so this is a faster and healthier way to grow it. If it was outside, there is more chance it could be infected with weeds, bugs etc. Since it is inside, it’s in a controlled environment,” LMS 7th grader Amaya Joe said. “I believe this will be an alternative for food production in the future.”
LMS science teachers and the school librarian spearheaded lab efforts with assistance from Texas A&M AgriLife. Contacts there provided an avenue to obtain seeds and help train the teachers on how to create, use and maintain the system.
The lab links what students learn from the aquaponics lab into other aspects of STEM, through their hands-on experience.
“It helps when they actually see the lab, the fish, the plants the water, it makes them interested in math calculations and learning the engineering behind the equipment,” LMS 7th grade STEM science teacher Sarah Brooks said. “They get so excited because they are actively ‘doing’ science and STEM instead of just reading about it.”
Although students from the science class primarily handle running the lab, LMS teachers have made parts of the process collaborative with other classes such as AVID, math and marketing.
“Our math classes did a project-based learning assignment where they competed to find the correct measurements for the fence we need for our outdoor garden, while our marketing class is creating a logo we can trademark for our produce,” Hewitt said. “So we are trying to make this a school-wide effort.”
As the lab grows from the classroom to an outside garden, students and teachers hope eventually to sell some of the produce to the community. The lab has become so popular that students request to be included although they are not a part of the course.
“I have kids constantly asking to be in my class, so now I use the lab as a reward. It’s great to see them so engaged,” Brooks said.
The aquaponics lab has successfully engaged students in science and encouraged some students to bring what they have learned from the lab into the next phase of their lives.
“I hope to, one day, incorporate aquaponics in a restaurant, because of the freshness of the food,” Joe said. “I feel like aquaponics is beneficial to me and us because this is my generation. It is up to us to make sure that the earth stays around. That’s how I want to do it.”
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