Aquaponics in STEM Breakout Discussions

The Aquaponics Association’s Putting Up Shoots conference in September, 2018 featured breakout discussion sessions for Aquaponics in STEM Education and for other sub-fields of aquaponics. These sessions allowed all conference participants to give input and discuss steps we can take together to advance aquaponics in our respective areas.

By Kevin Savage

In September 2012, I attended my first Aquaponics Association conference in Denver, CO.  I was new to aquaponics, and new to attempting to use aquaponics as a model for teaching science and agriculture in a high school setting.  The conference was a bit overwhelming with technical presentations, conversations during breaks and at meals, and networking with aquaponics practitioners (many of whom are now close friends).  I distinctly recall, however, that I met only one or two other individuals who were doing aquaponics in a secondary school setting.

At the 2013 Tucson conference, the number of educators and professional who were working with school had increased significantly, and by the 2016 and 2017 conferences (Austin, TX and Portland, OR), educators had dedicated presentation tracks to share with others how they were using aquaponics in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as college and university settings, to teach a myriad of science, agriculture, engineering, and mathematics principles.

In September 2018, members and friends of the Aquaponics Association gathered in Hartford, Connecticut for the Association’s “Putting Up Shoots” conference.  The “Shoots” conference included a STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) technical track each day for education-focused presentations.  Each day also include STEM-focused breakout sessions, where educators and those interested in adding aquaponics to a school or classroom had the opportunity to gather and discuss such topics as “How do I get my administration on board with aquaponics?”, “How do I incorporate aquaponics into my biology/chemistry/botany curriculum?”, and “Where do I find funding to cover the costs of starting aquaponics?”  Some questions were easily addressed, but many others remained open-ended or unanswered, reflecting both the challenges and the opportunities for educators with a passion for experiential learning through aquaponics.  The most exciting part of these breakout sessions was that over the three days of the conference, nearly 40 different individuals attended at least one of these sessions, and 25 individuals attended at least two of them!  The participation of members in aquaponics in education continues grow!

Significant outcomes of these breakout sessions included introductions and networking, creation of a STEM education email group, and a “handshake” agreement to work with the educators of the U.S. Aquaculture Society to develop a forum or outlet for educators to share ideas and lesson plans, and to have a community in which to ask questions or seek assistance.

STEM Education is a primary focus area for the 2018 and 2019 Board of Directors, with the goal of creating a STEM Education Working Group.  This working group will be composed of Association Members with a passion to see aquaponics education continue to grow, and a willingness to contribute to this growth.  More information on the creation of this working group will be sent out in the near future.

Kevin Savage teaches and grows at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in Ohio, serves as Aquaponics Association Secretary, and leads the Association’s STEM initiative.