Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
PINE BLUFF, Ark. – A group of eight students enrolled in the Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) initiative at Monticello Middle School (MMS) recently visited the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) to learn about aquaculture systems.
Bauer Duke, Extension specialist at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, discussed aquaponics – a method of growing plants and fish together in a recirculating system – with the seventh and eighth grade students who study aquaculture as part of the EAST initiative.
Duke regularly works with teachers and students at Arkansas schools to offer technical advice on how to run aquaponics systems.
“I discuss water chemistry, biology, physics, math and business with the students,” Duke said. “However, my real role is to train the teacher and fill in any gaps of knowledge they may have.”
In 2014, Duke coordinated with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) of Monticello to help the student group at MMS set up their own system and stock it with tilapia.
The system consists of a fish tank with a biofiltration unit connected to a separate tank that contains Styrofoam rafts, upon which plants are grown. The students are responsible for feeding the fish, monitoring pH levels and collecting other water quality data on a daily basis.
More than a rudimentary understanding of how to run an aquaponics system, Duke said he aims to instill in students an analytical understanding of the practice.
“If the students do not understand aquaponics then we are simply training technicians,” he said. “Technicians can gather data, but they may not know what to do with the data. We want the students to be able to analyze what is happening within the system in order to realize the cross-disciplinary aspects of learning.”
By evaluating the data they collect, students will be able to understand fish health and lifecycle, budgeting for projects and whether the system is performing optimally, he said.
Misty Morgan, EAST Facilitator at MMS, credits Duke for answering teacher and student questions during the process of raising fish.
“Having a resource like him is very valuable to me as an EAST facilitator because I am not ‘teaching’ a specific course, but rather facilitating a self-directed class,” Morgan said. “We need community partners, and that is what Bauer has been for us.”
EAST allows students to choose what project they are interested in and encourages them to contact resources in their community such as UAPB and AGFC, Morgan said. “The EAST classroom supports student interest by letting students learn not only at their own pace, but also how they prefer to learn, whether it be through reading tutorials online, watching YouTube videos, or seeking help from experts in the field,” she said.