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Fish in the Classroom: A Survey of the Use of Aquaponics in Education

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School gardens and demonstration farms are exciting avenues for experiential learning in education. Aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, is an attractive educational tool because systems are self-contained ecosystems that allow teachers and students to explore a wide range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics. The aim of this study was to characterize the use of aquaponics in education in the United States (US) using an online survey. One hundred respondents who completed the survey were engaged with aquaponics education and met the inclusion criteria for the study. Thirty-six percent of respondents worked for primary and secondary schools, 53% represented colleges or universities, and 11% worked for vocational or trade schools. Respondents reported the subjects taught, target audiences, number of participating students or visitors, and the resources and funding used by their organizations. Respondents used aquaponics to engage students in a variety of STEM subjects. In total, respondents and their institutions engaged an estimated range of 12,320 to 50,250 participants per year in aquaponics education. The typical school invested $1,000 to $4,999 US dollars (USD) in their aquaponics facility during the previous year, with a combined total of $1.4 to $6.6 million USD invested by all academic institutions. Aquaponics is an emerging educational tool, and there is a need for continued collaboration, technical support, and training for educators from universities and aquaculture education and research centers in the US and other countries.
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European Journal of Health & Biology Education, 2015, 4(2), 9-20
Copyright © 2015 by iSER, International Society of Educational Research
ISSN: 2165-8722
Fish in the Classroom: A
Survey of the Use of
Aquaponics in Education
Laura Genello
Johns Hopkins University, USA
Jillian P. Fry
Johns Hopkins University, USA
J. Adam Frederick
University of Maryland College Park, USA
Ximin Li
Johns Hopkins University, USA
David C. Love
Johns Hopkins University, USA
Received 10 June 2015 Revised 17 July 2015 Accepted 25 July 2015
School gardens and demonstration farms are exciting avenues for experiential learning in
education. Aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, is an attractive
educational tool because systems are self-contained ecosystems that allow teachers and
students to explore a wide range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM) topics. The aim of this study was to characterize the use of aquaponics in
education in the United States (US) using an online survey. One hundred respondents
who completed the survey were engaged with aquaponics education and met the
inclusion criteria for the study. Thirty-six percent of respondents worked for primary and
secondary schools, 53% represented colleges or universities, and 11% worked for
vocational or trade schools. Respondents reported the subjects taught, target audiences,
number of participating students or visitors, and the resources and funding used by their
organizations. Respondents used aquaponics to engage students in a variety of STEM
subjects. In total, respondents and their institutions engaged an estimated range of 12,320
to 50,250 participants per year in aquaponics education. The typical school invested
$1,000 to $4,999 US dollars (USD) in their aquaponics facility during the previous year,
with a combined total of $1.4 to $6.6 million USD invested by all academic institutions.
Aquaponics is an emerging educational tool, and there is a need for continued
collaboration, technical support, and training for educators from universities and
aquaculture education and research centers in the US and other countries.
Keywords: aquaponics, school gardens, garden-based learning, aquaculture, hydroponics
Correspondence: Laura Genello,
615 North Wolfe Street Room W7010, 21211 Baltimore, MD, USA
E-mail: lgenell1@jhu.edu
doi: 10.12973/ejhbe.2015.213p
L. Genello, J. P. Fry, J. A. Frederick, X. Li & D. C. Love
10 © 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20
INTRODUCTION
As the sustainable agriculture movement has expanded, so has interest in using
school gardens and demonstration farms for experiential learning in education
(Williams & Dixon, 2013; Mazurkewicz, Harder, & Roberts, 2012). Williams and Dixon
(2013) reason that garden-based learning aligns with two recent trends of public
interest: growing awareness of the need for improved health, particularly children’s
health, and the increasing awareness of the importance of children spending time in
nature. Experiential learning through gardening has been documented to have a wide
range of positive impacts on students, including direct academic outcomes such as
improved performance in science, math, or language arts, and non-academic
outcomes such as increased dietary preference for fruits and vegetables, personal
development, cooperation, and environmental awareness (Parmer, Salisbury-
Glennon, Shannon, & Struempler, 2009; Morgan, Hamilton, Bentley, & Myrie, 2009;
Williams & Dixon, 2013).
In addition to soil-based gardening, other methods of agriculture are increasingly
incorporated into educational curricula and activities, including aquaculture,
hydroponics and aquaponics (Frederick 2005). Aquaculture systems, in which
aquatic plants and/or animals are raised, can be effective tools for providing students
with new environments for hands-on learning (Caldwell 1998; Frederick 2005;
Wigenbach, Gartin, & Lawrence, 1999). Initially, aquaculture education was focused
on traditional agriculture and vocational schools in order to produce a qualified
workforce for the aquaculture industry; however, increasingly educators in
secondary schools are taking an interest in incorporating aquaculture into their
programing as a vehicle to teach science, math, and other topics (Frederick 2005), and
Soares, Buttner and Leavitt (2001) document a variety of existing aquaculture
curricula for educators. In fact, at least one program, the Maryland Sea Grant
Aquaculture in Action program in the United States, has been developed to offer
training and support for teachers running recirculating aquaculture systems in their
classrooms for use as a living laboratory for student research projects (Maryland Sea
Grant, 2014).
Aquaponics is a form of aquaculture, in which hydroponic plant grow beds are
joined with aquaculture tanks. In aquaponics systems, fish waste is used to fertilize
plants, and bacteria and plants remove nutrients, filtering the water for the fish.
Aquaponics systems recycle water while converting the fish waste into a resource,
and provide an avenue for educators to discuss ecosystem functions, sustainability,
resource conservation, agriculture, and healthy food production. In a survey of 10
educators using aquaponics systems in their classrooms, Hart, Webb and Danylchuk
(2013) found that educators were attracted to aquaponics because it offers hands-on
learning, flexibility, integration of fun and science, use of technology, and address
science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and food concepts. Moreover,
operation of an aquaponics system incorporates knowledge from a variety of subjects
including agriculture, biology, engineering, nutrition, chemistry, and technology
providing educations with ample opportunity to incorporate aquaponics systems into
their lesson plans across a variety of disciplines. Aquaponics also provides stimulating
material and project-based learning opportunities for students and teachers
(Wardlow, Johnson, Mueller, & Hilgenberg, 2002).
While the use and impact of soil-based school gardens has been frequently
documented in the literature, existing literature on the use of aquaponics in education
is limited and primarily focuses on documenting case studies or presenting
student/teacher feedback. Nelson (2007) documents several examples of educators
using aquaponics systems as a teaching tool for STEM education, a living laboratory
for student research projects, or a site for job training and hands-on agricultural
experience (Nelson, 2007). In an article in Tech Directions, technology teacher Erik
Fish in the classroom
© 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20 11
Johansen reported on his personal experience using an aquaponics system to
successfully integrate biotechnology components into his curriculum. The aquaponics
system allowed his students to work on creative engineering projects, such as
creating an automated fish feeder using legos, or modifying a toilet-bowl fill valve to
regulate water flow (Johanson, 2009). In another example, Wardlow, Johnson,
Mueller, and Hilgenberg (2002) documented the “Aquaponics in the Classroom”
program, run by the University of Arkansas, in which teachers were loaned
prefabricated aquaponics systems for their classrooms for use as a teaching aid in
STEM education. Aquaponics systems have also been used in higher education. A team
of students and professors in the Department of Environmental Science at Allegheny
College developed an aquaponics system as a platform for community engagement
and student research projects (Eatmon, Szymecki, & Varrato, 2012).
While examples of aquaponics in education are easy to find, the scope and extent
of aquaponics in education has not been well-documented. The aim of this study was
to characterize the use of aquaponics in schools in the United States, and the findings
could be applicable to other countries. Specifically, we report: the demographic
profile of survey respondents practicing aquaponics-based education; the
characteristics of classroom systems, the target audiences of those education
activities; the education subjects taught using aquaponics; the number of
participants; the knowledge of system operators, and the resources and funding used
by organizations. We hope that these findings can help create a foundation for future
research on aquaponics education and inform educators interested in integrating
aquaponics systems into their curriculums. As the aquaponics industry gains
momentum, interest in aquaponics in education is likely to increase. Understanding
the extent of the practice currently is an important first step in understanding the
overall effectiveness of this new education technology.
METHODS
Survey
An online survey questionnaire was developed and implemented as described by
Love (2014). Survey questions were drafted and pretested with a group of 10
aquaponics practitioners. The final survey was distributed using Qualtrics (Provo,
Utah), a web-based survey platform. Because the target population has not been
previously well-defined, the survey was distributed using a chain sampling method
(i.e. referral or snowball sampling) with the help of eighteen partner organizations
who distributed the survey to their subscribers and members through email lists,
direct email, social media posts, and online newsletters. The survey was also emailed
to 365 potential respondents whose contact information was obtained at one of two
aquaponics conferences in 2013 (The Aquaponics Association Conference in Tuscon,
AZ and the International Aquaponics Conference in Stevens Point, WI). The survey
codebook, which contains a complete list of survey questions, is provided in the
supplement to Love (2014). The methodology was reviewed by the Johns Hopkins
University Insititional Review Board (IRB No: 00005088).
The survey was open between June 25, 2013 and October 1, 2013, and 1084
complete responses were collected during this period. The inclusion criteria for the
present analysis was as follows: any respondent who was 18 years of age or over, can
read English, had operated and maintained an aquaponics system within the previous
12 month period, had taught aquaponics (e.g., host tours, classes, courses, lectures, or
workshops) within the previous 12 months, and represented an educational
institution (primary or secondary school, colleges, universities, or vocational
schools). Respondents were asked to submit a maximum of one response per
organization. One hundred respondents met the inclusion criteria.
L. Genello, J. P. Fry, J. A. Frederick, X. Li & D. C. Love
12 © 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20
Data analysis
Data from the survey software (Qualtrics, Provo, UT) were exported and analyzed
in Excel (Microsoft, Redmond, WA), STATA (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX), SPSS
(IBM, Armonk, NY), and Prism (v5, GraphPad, La Jolla, CA).
RESULTS
Demographics
Just over half of all respondents (53%) represented colleges or universities (Table
1). Thirty-six percent worked for primary or secondary schools and 11% worked for
vocational or technical schools. Among respondents, 77% were male, 20% were
female, and 3% did not specify a gender. The mean age of respondents was 46 years
old. Forty six percent of respondents had a graduate degree, and 45% had a college
degree or had taken some college classes. Most respondents (54%) had less than 3
years prior experience practicing aquaponics, with only 6% of respondents having
greater than 5 years prior experience. Ninety two percent of all respondents lived in
the United States representing 35 different states; one respondent each lived in
Australia, Malaysia, and Canada. Three respondents did not report a location.
Target audiences
Table 1. Demographics of survey respondents engaged in education and outreach.
Number of respondents (%)
Demographics
2-year or 4-year
College or University
or Graduate School
Vocational or Trade
School or Training
Center
Overall
53
11
Gender
Male
43 (81)
6 (55)
Female
10 (19)
3 (27)
Not specified
-
2 (18)
Age, yr
18-29
12 (23)
1 (9)
30-39
7 (13)
1 (9)
40-49
14 (26)
1 (9)
50-59
14 (26)
4 (36)
60-69
6 (11)
3 (27)
70+
-
1 (9)
Education
Graduate degree
28 (53)
-
College degree or
college classes
19 (36)
9 (90)
High school, GED,
or some high school
-
1 (10)
Country
United States
52 (98)
9 (90)
Not reported
-
-
Other country
1(2) Malaysia
1 (10) Canada
Aquaponics experience,
yr
<1
7 (14)
-
1-2
14 (27)
3 (27)
2-3
7 (14)
3 (27)
3-4
5 (10)
2 (18)
4-5
6 (12)
-
>5
3 (6)
1 (9)
Role in organization
Owner or Operator
6 (11)
-
CEO
-
-
Executive Director
3 (6)
-
School Official
2 (4)
2 (18)
Farm Manager
5 (10)
2 (18)
Educator
25 (47)
3 (27)
Employee
12 (23)
1 (9)
Consultant
2 (4)
1 (9)
Volunteer
1 (2)
1 (9)
Other
9 (17)
-
Fish in the classroom
© 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20 13
Respondents were asked which groups they targeted with educational activities.
While respondents primarily educated their students, many educators also targeted
secondary audiences. Respondents from K-12 schools delivered educational and
outreach activities to students in the following percentages by grade level: 11th-12th
grades (56%); 9-10th grades (47%); 6-8th grades (36%); 5th grade and younger (36%).
In addition, over a quarter (28%) of K-12 respondents targeted all ages, including
both working-age adults and retirees, with their education and outreach activities.
Respondents from colleges and universities primarily targeted undergraduate and
graduate students, but nearly half (47%) of all college and university respondents
also targeted working-age adults in addition to students, and 20% targeted K-12
students. Respondents from vocational and technical schools primarily targeted
students at these schools, but 27% also targeted working-age adults.
Subjects taught using aquaponics
Respondents were asked to select from a list of 16 subjects, including the subject
of aquaponics, which they taught using aquaponics in the past 12 months. Figure 1
presents the 10 subjects taught most frequently by school type. At K-12 schools,
respondents used aquaponics to teach a wide range of subjects: aquaculture,
agriculture, biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, earth sciences, and food
systems. In colleges or universities, aquaponics was the main subject taught, but other
science, engineering, and agriculture subjects were also included. Vocational or trade
schools taught a narrower range of subjects, with aquaponics being the primary
subject taught. Aquaponics was also used for self-guided research projects at (80%)
of all institutions surveyed, with K-12 schools and colleges and universities using
aquaponics systems more frequently for self-guided projects than vocational schools.
Educational system and leadership
The majority of respondents felt that aquaponics was integrated into their
curriculum, with the highest proportion of vocational/trade school respondents
(78%) reporting curriculum integration and the lowest proportion of colleges and
university respondents reporting curriculum integration (60%). Seventy one percent
of K-12 respondents felt that aquaponics was integrated into their curriculum.
Figure 1. Frequency of subjects taught that incorporate aquaponics, by respondent organization.
L. Genello, J. P. Fry, J. A. Frederick, X. Li & D. C. Love
14 © 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20
Respondents reported a high degree of support from their institution leadership
(89% for K-12 school respondents, 86% for college and university respondents,
100% for vocational and technical school respondents).
Participants in tours, classes, courses and workshops
The survey collected data on the number of participants in aquaponics-related
lessons, tours, workshops or courses per institution per year as a categorical variable
(e.g., 1-24, 25-49, 50-99, etc. participants/year). The range of total participants per
year was estimated by summing the upper and lower bounds for each response. We
estimate that a total of 12,320 to 50,250 participants/year were involved in lessons,
tours, or workshops using the schools’ aquaponics systems. More accurate values for
participants could be achieved by asking respondents to report continuous data on
numbers of participants instead of categorical data. Colleges and universities saw the
most participants/year, with a median number of participants ranging from 100-499;
K-12 and Vocational/Trade schools both saw a median number of participants
ranging from 50-99 (Table 2).
Technical knowledge of respondents
Respondents were asked to rate their knowledge of various aspects of maintaining
an aquaponics system on a Likert scale of 1-5, with 5 representing “strongly agree”
and 1 representing “strongly disagree.” Across all school types, respondents “strongly
agreed” that they knew how to modify the pH in the system and make repairs to
plumbing. Respondents also “agreed” that they knew how to track fish growth rates,
manage plant pests, and diagnose plant nutrient deficiencies. Respondents were less
confident in their knowledge of regulations surrounding processing or selling fish.
Resources for technical assistance
Table 2. Estimated number of participants taught per year at aquaponics facilities
or classrooms
Organization
N
Median
Range of total
participants per year
College or University
53
100 - 499
9,530 - 39,600
K-12 School
36
50 - 99
2,310 - 9,060
Vocational or Trade School
11
50 - 99
480 - 1,590
Fish in the classroom
© 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20 15
Respondents were asked what resources they use to troubleshoot and solve
problems related to their aquaponics operation (Table 2). Respondents used the
Internet (i.e., websites, community forums, and YouTube) more frequently than any
other means to troubleshoot and solve problems. Respondents contacted other
practitioners more often than government agencies, university staff or agriculture
extension offices that work on aquaculture or aquaponics. Over half of respondents
also attended aquaponics seminars or workshops.
Size of system and location
Aquaponics systems at K-12 schools were smaller than those at college, university,
and vocational schools. The median size of K-12 school systems held 1,500 L of water
and occupied 19 m2 as compared to 2,200 L gallons (32 m2) at colleges and
universities and 1,900 L gallons (70 m2) at vocational and technical schools. K-12
systems ranged from tabletop-scale systems at 75 L, to mid-sized systems with 7,900
L, while college, university, and vocational systems had a much greater size range
with the largest college system containing 150,000 L. Across all school types, just over
half (55%) of all respondents sited at least part of their system in a greenhouse, while
40% sited at least part of their system indoors. Only 31% had outdoor components to
their system.
Investments in aquaponics
Table 2. Estimated number of participants taught per year at aquaponics facilities
or classrooms
Respondents’
organization
Proportion of respondents using resources
N
Internet websites
Contact other
growers
Print resources
University staff,
agriculture extension
Seminars, workshops
State govt agencies
Federal govt
agencies
Other
K - 12 School
36
0.89
0.83
0.69
0.50
0.50
0.22
0.11
0.06
College or University
53
0.83
0.60
0.74
0.74
0.53
0.15
0.15
0.02
Vocational or Trade School
11
0.91
0.55
0.64
0.55
0.55
0.36
0.09
0.09
L. Genello, J. P. Fry, J. A. Frederick, X. Li & D. C. Love
16 © 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20
Schools made a wide range of investments in their aquaponics facilities, from none
to over $500,000 US dollars. The median amount of money invested by a K-12 school,
college or university, and vocational or technical school in their aquaponics facility
was $1,000 to $4,999 US dollars/year. Overall, we estimate a total of $1.4 to $4.3
million was invested in aquaponics by all schools in the study during the previous 12
months, which was calculated by multiplying the minimum and maximum value in
each category by the number of responses. Collectively, by type of school, colleges and
universities in the study spent $1.1 to $3.2 million on their systems in the previous
year, vocational and trade schools spent $0.13 to $1.1 million, and K-12 schools spent
a total of $0.13 to $0.41 million (Figure 2).
Funding sources
In the previous 12 months, respondents at K-12 schools financed their operations
with government funding or grants (42%), non-governmental (NGO) funding sources
including grants and gifts (22%), and income from the sale of aquaponics products,
materials, workshops and consulting (14%). Among respondents at colleges and
universities, 51% financed their operations with governmental funding, 25%
received NGO funding, and 26% used income from the sale of aquaponics products,
materials, workshops and consulting. A larger proportion of vocational and technical
school systems were supported by income from the sale of aquaponics products,
materials, workshops and consulting (used by 36% of respondents) compared to
other academic institutions, and they had lower rates of governmental funding (27%).
DISCUSSION
Figure 2. Aquaponics investments by respondent in US dollars.
$0
$1 - $499
$500 - $999
$1,000 - $4,999
$5,000 - $9,999
$10,000 - $49,999
$50,000-$99,999
$100,000-$499,999
>$500,000
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
K-12 School (n=36)
College, University (n=53)
Vocational, Tech School (n=11)
Investments in the previous 12 months
Percent of respondents
Fish in the classroom
© 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20 17
Aquaponics in education exists at a frequency and scale much greater than the few
documented examples might suggest. Schools across the United States, and likely
other countries, are using aquaponics as a tool to reach tens of thousands of students
and working-age adults in a way that can complement the growth of school gardens.
In general, subjects taught using aquaponics systems focused more exclusively on
STEM topics and targeted older age groups than many soil-based school gardens.
Aquaponics education was popular at both the college level and among K-12 schools,
indicating that it is a technology that can be used to reach a wide age range.
Surprisingly, many schools, particularly colleges and universities, were using their
aquaponics systems to reach populations outside of their student body, indicating
that aquaponics could provide a vehicle for community outreach for academic
institutions.
K-12 schools
Aquaponics education in K-12 schools is science-focused, project oriented, and
geared primarily towards older students, setting it apart from the typical soil-based
school garden. Aquaponics education in K-12 schools primarily targets high school
students, predominately in 11th and 12th grade, and educators use the systems to
teach a broad range of science subjects such as biology, chemistry, or agriculture. By
contrast, the literature on soil-based school gardens reveals a focus on grades 8 and
younger, and in addition to science courses, the gardens are also used to teach
nutrition or humanities such as language arts (Williams & Dixon, 2013; Graham, Beall,
Lussier McLaughlin, & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2005). Most K-12 aquaponics educators also
used the aquaponics system as a venue for student research projects. Aquaponics
education offers K-12 educators a technology-centric alternative to soil-based school
gardens, and provides science-focused experiential learning opportunities for older
students. In US states that adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, schools can
also use aquaponics education as a tool to meet the new standards by providing a
platform for project based learning opportunities that can help integrate cross cutting
concepts with scientific and engineering practices. Aquaponics systems at K-12
schools were generally smaller than systems at colleges and universities or vocational
schools. The cost of entry for aquaponics in the classroom was typically less than
$5,000 US dollars, and the average system size was 1,500 L, larger than a countertop
system, but still small enough to fit in a classroom. Unlike soil-based gardens,
aquaponics systems can be sited indoors, in greenhouses and in small spaces, offering
year round access to the system and versatility for schools that may not have suitable
outdoor spaces. These advantages must be weighed against the greater need for
technical knowledge for some educators.
Colleges and universities
Respondents from colleges and universities used aquaponics to teach a wide-range
of science subjects and for self-guided research projects. Interest in aquaponics
among colleges and universities parallels renewed interest in agriculture programs
and teaching farms at institutions of higher learning. While many land-grant colleges
are working to shift their focus back to teaching agriculture through demonstration,
campus farms and sustainable food initiatives are also developing at private
institutions throughout the country (Mazurkewicz, Harder, & Roberts, 2012; Barlett,
2011). In general, college and university aquaponics systems were larger and less
integrated into the curriculum. Interdisciplinary subjects such as food systems and
environmental science were taught using the aquaponics system more frequently at
colleges and universities than they were at other school types, where the focus was
more often on single discipline subjects such as chemistry or biology. Colleges and
L. Genello, J. P. Fry, J. A. Frederick, X. Li & D. C. Love
18 © 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20
universities attracted more participants than any other facility type, including
working-age adults and K-12 students, who do not attend the institution. This
indicates that these programs can be used as vehicles for education and outreach to
the broader community.
Vocational and technical schools
Interestingly, while aquaculture has traditionally been taught at agriculture or
vocational schools, only 11% of survey respondents represented vocational or tech
schools. This low number may be due to the fewer number of vocational and technical
schools overall compared to colleges and K-12 schools or our recruitment methods
(see below). These institutions had notable differences compared to other schools.
Vocational and technical schools invested more funds in their aquaponics systems
and generated a greater proportion of their funding through sale of products
produced in the aquaponics system. In general, the vocational school aquaponic
systems were larger than those at K-12 schools, and displayed a very different pattern
of subjects taught. Few vocational and technical schools used aquaponics systems to
teach subjects other than aquaponics, indicating that for these educators aquaponics
is a stand-alone subject and not a vehicle to address other STEM or food system topics.
However, vocational and technical school respondents had a similar level of prior
experience with aquaponics to the overall study population, indicating that
aquaponics in the classroom is still relatively new for these institutions.
Respondents’ knowledge
Implementing aquaponics in classrooms is not without challenges; Hart, Webb,
and Danylchuk (2013) report that technical difficulties, lack of experience and
knowledge, and maintenance over holidays and vacations can pose significant
barriers to teachers using aquaponics in education. The lack of knowledge and
experience is also reflected in the common challenges to soil-based school gardens. In
a survey of California principals in schools with a garden, Graham et al (2005) report
that lack of a teacher’s interest, knowledge, experience, and training were a barrier to
successfully using the garden for academic instruction for 70% of respondents. The
technical and interdisciplinary nature of aquaponics would increase the importance
of knowledge and experience for educators practicing aquaponics. Most respondents
to our survey were new to practicing aquaponics; the median respondent had less
than or equal to three years experience. While we did not specifically ask about major
challenges faced by respondents, when asked about their knowledge of six common
aspects of operating a successful aquaponics system, most respondents across all
school types felt confident in their abilities, despite limited experience. However, our
survey only targeted educators who have operated aquaponics systems and not those
who may have felt intimated by various barriers.
The availability of trainings, resources, and mentors could help offset potential
knowledge barriers. Hart, Webb, and Danylchuk (2013) reported that educators were
in need of community connections and support in regards to aquaponics systems. We
found that educators most often turned towards the Internet, other growers, and
print resources for technical assistance with aquaponics, indicating that these
methods were the most effective for obtaining information.
Limitations
Fish in the classroom
© 2015 iSER, Euro J Health Bio Ed, 4(2), 9-20 19
The data for this analysis were taken from a larger survey of aquaponic growers,
including those not involved in education, such as hobbyist and commercial farmers.
As a result, our recruitment was focused on aquaponics organizations rather than
schools, potentially leading to us missing some educators. Because of this recruitment
method, we captured educators who were already engaged in an aquaponics network,
perhaps leading to respondents having more confidence in their knowledge than
educators who are not engaged with similar networks. Despite this limitation, we
have captured a broad range of respondents representing a variety of academic
institutions and geographic locations.
The impact of aquaponics on academic outcomes was beyond the scope of this
research; however, there is a need for future work that examines how aquaponics in
education affects academic outcomes, and in particular, how those outcomes compare
to those of soil-based school gardens. As school gardens continue to spread, this
technical alternative offers teachers a way to reach older student age groups and
incorporate additional topics, including STEM subjects and student led research.
CONCLUSION
This study is the first survey to present the demographics, target audiences,
educational focus, experience, and funding sources of aquaponics educators in the US.
These results are informative and can serve as a baseline for comparing future
research and applied in other countries besides the US. Aquaponics is an emerging
educational technology, and many participating educators are new to aquaponics,
indicating a potential need for more training and technical support among educators.
Aquaponics education is active in a variety of settings, with a range of investments
and facility sizes. Continued collaboration and knowledge transfer among aquaponics
educators and supporting organizations could enable the diffusion of best practices
in education.
ACKNOWLEGEMENT
This work was funded by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future with a gift
from the GRACE Communications Foundation who had no role in study design, data
collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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