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Getting Students Hooked on Science

Maryland Sea Grant partners with teachers to bring aquaculture into the classroom

Story adapted from original article by The Baltimore Sun

When it comes to schooling, who better to turn to than a fish? Educators across the nation are increasingly discovering that aquaculture can be an effective tool for teaching science, a discovery not surprising to some teachers in Maryland.

Over two decades ago, a partnership between Maryland Sea Grant and Carroll County Public Schools in Westminster, MD led to the establishment of the first school aquaculture program. From that partnership, Maryland Sea Grant and University of Maryland Extension developed an innovative educational program called Aquaculture in Action (AinA) which provides K-12 teachers with the tools necessary to teach and practice aquaculture in their schools. AinA is now being implemented in 23 schools across Maryland with each school adapting the program to suit its individual needs. Because of its success in Maryland, AinA has also expanded to schools in Florida and Hawaii.

The AinA program helps teachers find new ways to make biology, physics and environmental science relevant and fun, while also addressing core learning goals and building a better appreciation for the environment. Since the program began, over 100 Maryland teachers have attended hands-on summer workshops designed to expose them to the many different ways aquaculture can be used as a a tool for teaching science. Aquaculture is interdisciplinary at its core and requires a grasp of physics (water flow dynamics), chemistry (monitoring water quality), and biology (fish and plant culture).

Armed with the knowledge provided by Maryland Sea Grant and its partners, the teachers then design successful aquaculture projects for their school. The scope and focus of each project varies; for example, at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore, MD, students are immersed in aquaponics – that is, systems that use the nutrient-rich feces of fish (in this case, tilapia) to grow vegetables such as lettuce.

For many students who participate in the AinA program, the experience is much more than just a science class.

Aquaculture is “a better way to feed everyone in the world,” said Franklin Portillo, 17, a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute student who is so interested in the aquaculture process that he stays after school to help keep the system running properly. He and several other students said they are now considering majoring in science in college.

Adam Frederick, assistant director for education at Maryland Sea Grant, was responsible for establishing the original partnership with Carroll County schools. He calls the AinA approach “project-based science”, but it could also be described as problem-solving science.

“It is student-based research. Kids carry out an investigation with an aquaculture and environmental theme,” said James Peters, Carroll County Schools’ Supervisor of Science, “From beginning to end they conduct that research… They learn all the skills for research. How to present and defend it. What response are they going to have if it fails.”

In addition to Maryland Sea Grant’s partnerships with teachers and schools, the success of the AinA program can be attributed to Sea Grant’s wide range of local, state and federal agency partners. NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (NOAA BWET) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust have provided funding to support teacher professional development, construction of recirculating systems, water quality equipment and field trips for environmental monitoring and fish release. Other partners include the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), Maryland DNR Fisheries Division, Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future Food Systems Lab, National Aquarium and UMCES Horn Point Laboratory.

For more information about Maryland Sea Grant’s Aquaculture in Action program, please contact: J. Adam Frederick, frederic@mdsg.umd.edu

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