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Students in Shanna Black’s Talented and Gifted and Discovery classes get first-hand experience growing plants and raising fish right in their classroom at Fort Dodge Middle School.
The aquaponics program – which is a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) – was developed by Professor Michael Bechtel of Wartburg College and called “Ioponcis.” Black applied for a grant from the Iowa Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Council in the spring to bring the project into his classroom.
The aquaponics project creates a controlled micro-ecosystem for hands-on learning throughout the year.
On Monday morning, Eighth-grade Aidan Russell looked in the aquarium at the orange koi fish he was instructed to observe, noting any damage to its scales, changes in size or colors, and anything else. notable.
On the side of the aquarium is a strip of duct tape with each inch marked out to help students estimate the size of their fish. Currently the fish are about 3 months old, Black said.
“They learn about the ecosystem, the nitrate cycle, how to grow plants”, Black explained.
The aquarium sits on the classroom floor, with a plant shelf about a foot above it. A water filtration system transports the water from the aquarium to the tank for the plants. Volcanic rocks, along with plants and their roots, help filter water and convert ammonia to nitrates, which plants then consume before the filtered water falls back into the aquarium. Some plants are placed in the lid of the aquarium lid so that the fish can feed directly on the roots.
Currently, the class grows plants like basil, mint, catnip, romaine lettuce, parsley, ornamental cabbage, and kale.
“Some of the students mentioned growing lettuce and other things and then being able to make a salad to eat at the end,” said Black.
Students also test the water to check its ammonia levels each day.
“I learned how important everything is (in an ecosystem)”, eighth-grade student Braden Kammerer said. “If you removed the bacteria or the plants, none of this would actually work. “
Observing the fish last week, Kammerer noticed that they looked quite nervous and were hiding in a corner of the aquarium.
“They are still getting used to their new home” he said.
The five fish have yet to be named, but each level of TAG has been able to suggest names that will be voted on this week.
Once the five kois reach their normal size, they will not be able to stay in Black’s class tank as it will be too crowded. She said the water farm that supplied the fish will help them get them home when the time comes.
Black also applied for a grant from the Pets in the Classroom organization to help cover the cost of supplies to keep the koi happy and healthy.