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Learning with Aquaponics in the Outdoors

Customer Liaison, Naturalist & Educational Consultant Reese Hundley asks Drexel students to identify phases of how an aquaponics system works.

Customer Liaison, Naturalist & Educational Consultant Reese Hundley asks Drexel students to identify phases of how an aquaponics system works.

Pre-K through fourth-grade students from Drexel Academy gathered at Camp Loughridge in west Tulsa on Nov. 9 for a day of learning outside through the camp’s Outdoor Classroom program. Our own naturalist Reese Hundley taught these young scientists about aquaponics using the system that currently resides on the grounds.

Participants from A New Leaf, a nonprofit in Tulsa that provides individuals with developmental disabilities with marketable job skills and vocational training, maintain the system on the camp’s grounds. They grow a wide range of plants, from herbs like mint and dill to cucumbers and lavender. The system provided Drexel students with the perfect opportunity to engage with the environment through their senses.

Each Drexel class began their aquaponics exploration by observing. They smelled the herbs growing in the system, dug their hands in the grow media, and saw the fish swimming around in their tank. They began asking questions about what they encountered like “How does this work?” “What kinds of fish do you use?” “What can you grow?” This opened the door for an in-depth discussion of aquaponics, the nitrogen cycle, and other naturally occurring processes. The scope extended past science and into other academic disciplines such as history and even literature.

For many of the students, this was their first encounter with aquaponics. However, some have already begun learning about aquaponics and its applications. Cathy Meador, a kindergarten instructor at Drexel Academy, has integrated aquaponics into her classroom, where she uses it to engage her students in observation, writing, and art.

“As we do units about plants or nature or even animals, we can relay it back to what they learned in the beginning about the aquaponics,” Meador said. “It strengthens their knowledge of the aquaponics, but it also gives them a springboard for the next level in learning other plants or life cycles we’re learning about.”

Meador has implemented aquaponics in her classroom since the beginning of the school year. It’s become a part of her students’ world and they expect it to be there, she said.

At the end of the day, these students took an active role in their learning. They explored an open environment where it was okay for kids to be kids and where curiosity is welcomed. Activities like this will help the up-and-coming generations develop an interest in STEM and challenge themselves to solve the problems of the future.

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