Features of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium that Many Educators Find Appealing

7 May

Safety First! cannot be emphasized enough.

John Dewey’s statement:Give students something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature to demand thinking, and learning naturally results,” is one time-tested inspirational educational standard upon which “Beyond the Classroom Aquarium” projects have been designed.

The flexible/scalable nature of the projects also provides differentiation space for many traditional classroom settings in which student abilities and skills vary widely. Students who work with projects in ‘Beyond the Classroom Aquarium‘ are all able to naturally connect with their project work, love the projects and LEARN

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is student-centered and FUN! … the kind of curriculum more educators are blending into their own instructional practice every day. By their very nature, the learning activities and projects warmly invite educators to adapt them for their own unique groups of students.

Instructional flexibility, is derived from the optional structure that each educator may adopt while guiding students through this sequence of projects. Some educators may prefer to guide an entire class through one project at a time in an extremely linear sequence. Others might adopt an extremely different structure and at particularly opportune times (as suggested in the text) guide an entire class of separate project teams as a band teacher might guide different sections of an orchestra through unique design, assembly, and operational stages of their “assigned” aquatic ecosystem project; bringing together all the different sections only after all component bits and pieces are closely aligned. In some cases, an educator may feel comfortable giving a select number of students opportunities to work on one or more project independently – while a majority of the class works together on a project under the direct supervision of the educator. Many teachers appreciate this kind of instructional flexibility and implementing such executive decisions regarding which approach might be best for any given student or class. 

These projects are scalable such that teachers can personalize projects for students in a class and also for students at a range of grade levels (from middle school and beyond). Also of extreme concern for teachers and students is the fact that the projects are of high interest; they are authentic! This natural authenticity encourages student engagement. In addition, many educators also appreciate specific suggestions provided in project description text that encourages strategies for reaching out to the community (early and often) for technical support, assistance and voluntary sharing of specific knowledge, skills, materials and equipment.

Most “Beyond the Classroom Aquarium” field trips are designed (and strategically scheduled) to support successful student implementation of aquatic ecosystem design, assembly, and operation (and beyond). As described in the text, with adequate forethought and preparation teachers will use a number of field trips – with the assistance of a small team of skilled parents and trades-persons – to introduce prepared student teams to safe use of power tools. For example, during a field trip immediately after final student ecosystem designs have been approved (and reviewed in advance by volunteer trades persons) students can be guided to measure out and cut to specifications all system design components (electrical, plumbing, and carpentry) in their team plans in preparation for final assembly upon return to the classroom.

By designing projects in this curriculum with a DIY (Do It Yourself) mindset this curriculum is also designed to be economically scalable. Fully functional student designs can be implemented while expensive bell & whistle features (often unused) that come with commercially available equipment can be intentionally and inexpensively omitted from a project. If needed later, students may design and assemble their own add-on system components. Furthermore, successful preliminary write-ups of team design presentations during the project approval process may require inclusion (and approval) of detailed project cost estimates. This makes for many great / motivational learning opportunities that are also budgetarily safe – many teachers administrators and school boards find this kind of thinking and savings extremely important. A generalized budget estimation sheet is provided in the book to help the classroom teacher establish a project budget template for the entire school year. Each project budget may also encourage students to devise timely ways to get additional funds (via concerts, plays, bake sales, dances, grants, donations, marathons, fishing derbies, carnivals, auctions, and other events, etc.).

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium helps educators establish an educational focus in their classroom that is sustainable for an entire school year. Each year, the unfolding evolution and classroom exhibition of projects with each unique group and age/maturity level of students will be different. Introductory information in the book includes a suggested project timeline and school year calendar that is designed to ensure sufficient time to highlight as many practical project learning experiences as possible – as described in the post in which I provide an overview of the sequence of projects in this curriculum. 

Skills and knowledge students acquire by participation in the sequential anthology of projects (and included ‘end of project’ assessment activities) is relevant to them in their classrooms and beyond. Teachers will also learn a great deal every year especially as student curiosity grows and many new technologies become available each semester. Many educators also appreciate direct access their students have to a small but extremely useful computer lab with computer technology and software for individualized math instruction, and software for CAD, 3D printing, statistical analysis and to write programs and sketches to send to microcontrollers. Learning is unavoidable; as long as there are carbon based life forms on Earth, this program can never get old/stale.

Many educators also find the resources provided in the extensive bibliography of this 347 page book invaluable. 

Throughout the year and especially during each end of project assessment, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium students are guided to document their work – in a comprehensive portfolio and demonstrate strategies they have used to incorporate their study of mathematics into each project. Assessments are also designed to help students illustrate ways they experience and understand aquatic ecosystem components and their design – including aspects of computer automation and other digital technologies. Educators who guide students through the projects in this curriculum AND those who carefully review its sequence of projects find it provides multidimensional learning experiences that lead students to develop knowledge and skills that surpass those of students who participate in curricular learning projects with a narrower scope.

Of course numerous Beyond the Classroom Aquarium projects address aquaculture techniques. But, students who participate in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium projects learn about much more than aquaculture! Similarly, by participating in the anthology of projects in this book students also learn about much more than: aquaponics; coral propagation; plankton culture; authentic aquatic ecosystem design and construction; design and development of auxiliary aquatic ecosystem components; and aquatic ecosystem research and research design; as they are guided to explore opportunities to apply developing aquatic ecosystem knowledge and skills beyond their classroom in their communities and to develop a vision for their own futures that includes skillful practice of STEM abilities and environmental stewardship.

I believe another very real feature of this curriculum that makes it more appealing to many educators is the overarching satisfaction (personal &  professional) they may derive from witnessing the impact that this project work has upon their students. I believe by the end of the school year teachers will find many more of their students than might be expected have transformed into well-informed, capable and caring stewards of the Earth and life upon it.  

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is a cohesive entity. In part, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium exists by virtue of the fact that a substantial portion of particularly STEM-oriented aquatic-ecosystem related educational resources, have been developed by a broad range of large public agencies and interest groups (with noble yet often divergent purposes).

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is the result of the author’s desire/vision to fully develop and share his version of a comprehensive, sequentially organized, curricular anthology of STEM-Oriented, aquatic ecosystem themed educational activities with his students and colleagues. To my knowledge, there is no other practical, hands-on, STEM-project oriented, aquatic ecosystem teaching guide or resource book like Beyond the Classroom Aquarium. Projects and activities in it may be effectively used to supplement standard science, technology, engineering, and math texts and classroom learning activities for a wide range of students.

Each of the fourteen projects and related activities in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium guides teachers and students to adhere to consistent and high standards of work/performance. Many students learn more successfully, throughout a school year, when the standard operating procedure is to repeatedly provide them with practical opportunities to productively apply and expand their skills and knowledge.

To read more about Beyond the Classroom Aquarium you may click on a link to one of the four bulleted posts below. Each post offers additional information about: the curriculum, the author, the program’s structure/format, and acknowledgement of support others have provided in curriculum development or in piloting of activities with students.

Previously at: https://www.createspace.com/4888083 book files are now held at my Kindle Direct Print account which has NOT yet been activated to sell the book.

Please contact Robert Jakus directly for more information about Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.

Return to the BEYOND the CLASSROOM AQUARIUM – HOME by clicking here.

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