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US (OK): Aquaponics-based research learning comes to Tulsa-area schools

Symbiotic Aquaponic will collaborate with the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES) along with Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance (TRSA), the Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park to bring aquaponics-based research learning to Tulsa-area schools for a STEM education project.

Symbiotic will receive part of the USDA PD-STEP (Professional Development for Secondary School Teachers and Education Professionals) grant in partnership with TIES and TRSA to develop small-scale, classroom aquaponics systems that will aid students in creative problem solving as well as developing research skills. Symbiotic and TIES will collaborate with the development of a curriculum to guide learning. 

TIES partners with organizations and schools with the goal of making students “STEM-ready,” meaning students will have the knowledge and the interest to pursue career paths in science, technology, engineering, and math after graduation. In addition, TIES works to make STEM education available to students of all backgrounds, especially underserved and underrepresented learners.

“This program holds amazing promise for providing students with the types of hands-on learning in STEM that will allow them to acquire valuable skills and understand the important role that they play in solving some of the challenges of our world,” said Jan Morrison, founder and managing partner of TIES, in a news release. “By connecting this work to the vast network of the 84 ecosystems that make up the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice, we have a tremendous opportunity to scale this work throughout the nation and the world.”

Morrison noted that the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice, a five-year-old initiative to connect STEM learning to many stakeholders, is ranked as the top priority in the federal five-year STEM plan for the nation, according to TIES.

“Our goal in this partnership is the same as TIES, and that is to make STEM education accessible to all.” CEO Kaben Smallwood said, “This will be a good opportunity to develop systems that can be used in any classroom in the future.”

Students from Union and Tulsa Public Schools will use aquaponics systems during a six-week interdisciplinary science unit to address one of the National Academy of Engineers 14 Grand Engineering Challenges, Managing the Nitrogen Cycle. Students will research and design filters to manage solids in each system and use critical thinking skills to collect data and maintain their aquaponic systems.

Tulsa Region STEM Alliance will provide assistance in measuring outcomes through Harvard University PEAR Assessment student surveys and facilitator observations through the Dimensions of Success (DOS) program developed by Harvard University - McLean Teaching Hospital - PEAR.

The first phase of the project will be implemented in schools in the Tulsa metro area. The second phase, which is to take place a year later, will focus on schools in Baltimore, Maryland.

This work is supported by Teacher Efficacy in STEM Through Aquaponics (TESTSA) grant no. 2019-68010-29280 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 

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