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Avella Aquaponics: From Fish to Food

location_on Cross Creek Township, United States

A project based learning environment that incorporates agriculture, fish culture and nutrient cycling in an enclosed system.

The aquaponics system is designed to give students a hands on learning experience to explore a sustainable method of growing food in a self-contained area. Students observe and work within the nitrogen cycle to convert fish waste into nitrate; a fertilizer for food crops. Students have the opportunity to experiment and manipulate various growth mediums, plant types and light sources.


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Web presence






January 2019
"I enjoyed the large fish and watching how they interacted with each other!" "It was really cool to watch the female carrying eggs in her mouth." "I was surprised to see how much faster and better the plants grown in the float, and media bed did to plants grown in dirt."

About the innovation

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a self-contained aquaculture system that uses the waste product of fish to fertilize plants. Students are given the learning experience to explore a sustainable method of agriculture within the confines of a classroom. The nitrogen-cycle, a key nutrient for plants, has been shown to be a difficult concept for students to master; this hands-on project allows students to observe and manipulate the cycle giving them the ability to retain and apply the concept. Additionally students are given the opportunity to develop research and critical thinking skills by designing experiments using various factors within the system. Areas that students have explored with the system include: plant needs, nutrient and animal life cycles including mating and birth of fish, photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and water chemistry. 

 Our fish were able to mate several time and reproduce young, this was quite an experience for the students to observe, giving a real world application to relevant material they are learning in biology class. Students retained more knowledge about plant growth cycles because of their enthusiasm over the results from their growth experiments. Additionally our school took this module further; by creating a smaller version of the system and adapting it to the elementary levels to be used in their classrooms.

Implementation steps

Funding, Vendor Selection & Training

Secure grants to fund the purchase and installation of the system. Our system was designed and installed by the company Intag, their website is: https://intagsystems.com/. Once the system was in place educators were trained on maintaining and using the system by Intag.  This company was very approachable and answered any questions or problems that arose .

Data Base Monitoring System

Daily feed and flush schedules need to be done as soon as the system is up and running. This needs to be done by a teacher until the students have been shown and trained on the system. The students can then take over maintenance of the system. The system needs to be flushed daily so the fish waste does not accumulate in the fish tanks, building up ammonia levels. The waste is then easily flushed into the media bed and digested by the worms. Weekly water testing should also be scheduled and this information entered into a database to monitor over time. Measurement of the water chemistry ensuring the health of the fish and worms.

Air and water temperature probes along with live video are set up to send live feed reports to the website. This allows students the ability to monitor the system virtually.

Student Introduction to the System

Students are shown how each of the individual components of the system function. The students are taught how to feed and test the water chemistry of the system, conduct the maintenance, and to enter the information into the database. The system consists of: 1) the fish tank, 2) the clarifier (toilet), 3) the media bed (which contains the gravel) and 4) the float bed (contains water and styrofoam floats for plants). The fish waste migrates from the fish tank and is stored in the clarifier until a pump is manually turned on to cycle the waste into the media bed. Worms residing in the media bed, digest the waste and convert the nitrogen into nitrate; a form of nitrogen that plants can take up and use. Water in the system flows from the media bed to the float bed where plants on styrofoam rafts have their roots in the water allowing them to grow. All parts of the system are aerated using air pumps.

Once the students are taught the basics of the system they are then given their scheduled jobs to maintain the system.

Student Research of System

Student groups are assigned a specific area of content for the system to research more in-depth than the initial walk through.  They then present their findings to the class.  The main topics researched are:  

  • Nitrogen cycle 
  • Talapia life cycle 
  • Red worm life cycle 
  • Aquaponics system 

In addition students groups research plant growth requirements and explain three growth methods:

  • Soil cultivation
  • Hydroponics
  • Aquaponics

This is done for students to have more of a background in growing methods that they can then use to design an experiment.

Student Experimentation

Once students understand the system they are then able to select a variable to explore and manipulate. and design an experiment to test within the system. Students are given on online lab journal to record their hypothesis, their experimental design, and all data pertaining to their experiment. All ideas must be approved so as not to cause harm to the system. The experimentation process is conducted with data collected, analyzed and presented to the class. At the end students are asked to journal a conclusion of their results. 

Example of ideas tested:

  • plants growth comparison among seed varieties.
  • plant growth comparison among the media bed and float bed.
  • plant growth comparison using various wavelengths of light.
  • plant growth comparison among the system and soil outside the system. 
Advanced Placement Biology

Inquiry based research for an advanced class. Here again students are given the opportunity to give an application to relevant material they are learning in AP Biology. At this level students are expected to design an experiment that test a topic from class. Some of the topics explored have been animal behavior studies during mating and growth patterns of fish related to blue/red wavelengths of the visible spectrum. 

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