Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
As an Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Bauer Duke’s work takes him to middle school and high school classrooms across Arkansas teaching a very specialized subject with broad educational implications. In a mandate between the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, his job is to provide technical support and science-based information to teachers introducing students to recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS).
“Enthusiasm for aquaculture, the breeding of fish and plants in freshwater or marine systems, grew enormously in America in the 1980s,” Duke said. “The excitement caused a trend of including recirculating systems in classrooms across the nation in the 1990s. The UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center assists teachers using these systems to show students how the concepts they learn in the classroom are interconnected and can be used for practical purposes such as raising fish and plants.”
Duke said standard aquaculture systems are composed of a tank to keep a stock of fish and a biofilter for housing bacteria that eat fish waste and filter out solids. The operator feeds the fish, the fish create waste, bacteria eat the waste and clean water is returned to the fish.
“These systems come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from 100-gallon systems made out of two plastic barrels to enormous systems containing nearly 7,000 gallons of water, and can be used to grow a wide variety of fish including catfish, carp, tilapia, largemouth bass, bluegill and crayfish,” he said. “As aquaponics has become increasingly popular in recent years, people have added soilless plant-growing capabilities to their RAS to produce a three crop system of fish, bacteria and plants.”
During school visits, Duke first introduces students to the broad concepts of aquaculture and the basics of maintaining a RAS. With help from their teachers, students then determine the RAS design, build the system, select their fish species and choose the plants they want to grow if aquaponics is involved. Herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries are examples of the plants that have been raised in these systems.
“Considering that we humans are made of mostly water and the planet surface consists primarily of water, it’s a good idea to have familiarity with water and the creatures in it,” Duke said. “The use of RAS in the classroom is often a challenging but effective means of transferring concepts not only related to aquaculture and fisheries, but also the basics of math, physics, biology, chemistry and ecology. The RAS replicates many of the systems that occur in nature within the classroom and allows the teacher to make changes to the system so students can observe the outcomes.”
Duke said once the RAS is set up, teachers and students have a constant source of engaging and dynamic educational content immediately available.
“The benefits of an ongoing classroom project such as a RAS include satisfying the U.S. Department of Education requirement for group work and the teacher’s constant goal for student enrichment,” he said. “One teacher who enjoyed taking his students to work with farm animals as part of their animal science class, told me the amount of time and effort to travel to the nearest farm made it difficult to regularly coordinate such meaningful, hands-on learning activities. Now with the RAS, travel time is cut down to two minutes between his classroom and the lab, and other science classes in the school can benefit from using the system as well.”
Duke said UAPB’s goal in education extension is to help Arkansas students connect various ideas they are learning in the classroom and instill meaningful concepts rather than lists of facts. The education system wants students to see how the various subjects they take in school combine to form a knowledge base they can use in daily life. Aquaculture in the classroom advances this idea by using concepts from chemistry, physics, math, animal science, botany and business.
“The nitrogen cycle may be taught in biology class, but it becomes very tangible to students when they work with fish in a tank,” Duke said. “Data gathered from the RAS may be used to determine growth rates of the fish. Suddenly, the goal of finding out how well the students’ fish are doing overshadows the fact they are using math. Math becomes a useful means to an end.”
Duke said exposure to concepts of aquaculture could help students make educational and career choices.
“Several of the teachers I have worked with told me about students pursuing degrees and careers in wildlife, aquaculture, fisheries, veterinary sciences and law enforcement after becoming interested in fish and aquatic sciences,” he said. “There are currently a lot of opportunities in the fields of aquaculture and fisheries, as we need people to both efficiently grow fish as a source of food and keep our natural aquatic environments stable.”
In addition to learning about aquaculture in the classroom, classes from across Arkansas regularly schedule visits to the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center to learn firsthand about aquaculture system design as well as other topics related to fish biology.
“On campus, visiting students and teachers learn the difference between algae and bacterial-based systems for raising fish,” he said. “UAPB faculty and staff also conduct demonstrations on fish identification, spawning, anatomy and water chemistry. Fun, hands-on exercises include learning how to handle, net and tag fish.”
Teachers can schedule tours at the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center or request a visit to their school by contacting Bauer Duke at 870-575-8143 or firstname.lastname@example.org.