Ed’s Heartbreaking Aquaponics Move; Classroom to Wine Cellar

By Ed Tivnan, Director of STEM Aquaponics
Aquaponics Association

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the faculty at the Tremont High School in Concord, Massachusetts got the closure orders from the Governor that our school building would be closing by noon the next day. So, I had 24 hours to disassemble and move out the best example of natural sustainability that could be found in any classroom in the country. For all the right reasons, yet it still broke my heart that our “Aquaponics in the Classroom” learning experience would end this way.

Classroom aquaponics record-keeping chart and graphs

Six weeks prior, starting in January 2020, my Tremont High School Biology students had been daily enjoying, while learning, Organic Gardening, Water Quality Testing, Teamwork and Next Generation Biological Practices, Big Ideas and Connections. They started off class by conducting 10 water quality tests: Air, Water, and Soil Temperatures, Nitrates, pH, Hardness, Alkalinity, Ammonia and Dissolved Oxygen.

One student was designated the Lead Scientist and lead the group of testing students and entered all information on a shared Google spreadsheet (See Spreadsheet). At the same time each student planted their own vegetable pots of Carrots, Broccoli, Kale, and Peas. They were deeply engaged in both the physical and scientific aspects of organic gardening. During weekly lab periods, students discussed trends in the water testing data to determine whether these trends were healthy or unhealthy for the three Keystone Communities of Plant, Fish and Microbes. At the same time students weekly sketched and journaled about the growth patterns of their individual plants. While also learning to take care the Aquaponics Unit “biological needs” by daily feeding the fish, weekly filling the fish tank when the water was low and pruning plants that needed attention.

As an educator I had a living classroom unit that contained all five major taxonomic kingdoms (Plants, Animals, Bacteria, Archaebacteria and Fungi) which I regularly incorporated into my Next Generation Science Standard Biology lesson plans. Furthermore, the entire school benefited by being entertained by the fish and the lush greenery in the wintertime.

So, when the order came to evacuate the school building, I had to reluctantly “think quickly on my feet”. My godson’s wife had asked me to build her an aquaponics unit in their home 2 months prior to the Governor’s order. Subsequently after finally disassembling the aquaponics unit that afternoon, I transferred the unit to their house in Newton New Hampshire. They had the perfect spot in their cellar, an abandoned wine cellar room. In a matter of three weeks the unit was reassembled, water was again circulating, most of the classroom plants were replanted, and fish were swimming again in fish tank, Subsequently we had successfully gone from a “An Aquaponics in the Classroom” to an “Aquaponics in the House.” Stayed tune for updates.

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