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

Avella Aquaponics: From Fish to Food

Avella Area School District, Avella, PA, USA
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.

What is Aquaponics?

“"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." ”

Students, Biology class

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.

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Innovation Overview
9 - 18
Age Group
Tips for implementation
room space of 20 feet by 20 feet 200 gallon aquarium 2 large water tight containers for media bed and float bed 1 ton of pea gravel 15 Talapia fish fish food 50 red wiggler worms pvc piping electrical outlets grow lights access to water 2 air pumps 2 water pumps water heater rock wool plant seeds water testing kit
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See this innovation in action

Live stream of the high school aquaponics system available on our website, click on next post
evy breitigan
avella | Vocational Agriculture
Biology student comment: "Having the chance to observe mating behavior of Talapia during class was an extraordinary opportunity."
evy breitigan


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Funding, Vendor Selection & Training
Securing funding, selecting a vendor to install, and training the educators on the system will need to be in place first.
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Data Base Monitoring System
Daily feed, maintenance and weekly testing need to be scheduled and logged for success of system.
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Student Introduction to the System
Students are walked through the steps of the system with all stages explained.
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Student Research of System
Students are assigned various research topics about the system and findings are presented to the class.
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Student Experimentation
Students select a variable and design an experiment to explore.
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Advanced Placement Biology
Inquiry based research for an advanced class
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