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Would You Rather: “Wish Upon a Star? Carry Moonbeams Home in a Jar? Be Better Off Than You Are? …Or, Would You Rather…” Design & Assemble Aquatic Ecosystems (for an entire school year)?

9 Feb Photo by Robert Jakus

The title of this post is intended to convey an idealized spirit of free and engaged learning. The popular song upon which this post title is based is: Swinging on a Star.” According to Wikipedia, this song “is an American pop standard with music composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke.[1] It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song that year,[1][2] and has been recorded by numerous artists since then. In 2004, it finished at No. 37 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.”

As it relates to the book/curriculum, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, the title of this post invites teachers and learners to actively exercise their own choice, voice and Joyfullness in pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Every word in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is intended to encourage students to engage in a uniquely personal sequence of learning projects. The educational jargon might call this “agency.”

According to his Indiegogo fundraising event in 2016, Bob, the author, is a knowledgeable and caring educator – recently retired; An “old-school” character in an ever-accelerating society; he appreciates natural and universal principles of our common “human condition.” He admires classical thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, Epicurus and Edu-Thinkers like Dewey and Escalante. Bob has long held hopeful expectations for a more peaceful and healthy society.

Bob continues to have an abiding interest in further sharing his Edu-Vision thru intensive weeklong ‘Beyond the Classroom Aquarium’ Professional Development workshops (as reflected in his previously unsuccessful Indiegogo curriculum PD campaign).

If this post puts a song in your heart then it has been of some great value. Thank you for visiting.

A List – 28 Pages Long – of Performance Based Educational Objectives From Which the Sequence of Projects in ‘Beyond the Classroom Aquarium’ Evolved

1 Dec

In the earliest days of writing this curriculum I tried to do a thorough review of the literature. I reviewed many kinds of curricula and kept track of the educational objectives that were used in each.

I try to use objectives like those on this list to structure every lesson I teach. Putting objectives into a logical sequence helped me decide how to structure the projects in this curriculum. Related objectives also helped me decide upon the range of projects to include in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium (the scope of the curriculum) AND the assessment activities to suggest for use by educators who are attempting to differentiate projects and assessments to best serve each individual learner. To this day, as I read about curriculum related projects and various assessment or lesson ideas, the list of objectives (in my head) expands.

I compiled an extensive list of objectives and I share that list with you here. In this pandemic infested school year, if you are guiding students through any kind of project based and aquatic ecosystem themed learning projects – I hope you are able adapt some of these listed objectives for use with your learners and that you also discover many new and exciting objectives (here and elsewhere) to use with your students; particularly as technologies continue to be more accessible/useful.

While I completed my initial literature review (in the days before I could access these documents via the internet – thank you libraries!) I placed the list of objectives in an Excel spreadsheet with six columns. Although I would like to transfer content from all six columns directly into this post it will be best, for now, to provide the file as a download that you may then open in your own system. When I have time to convert it and place it here directly, I will.

As I worked to complete ‘Beyond the Classroom Aquarium’ and took the curriculum through many major revisions, I did not get back to filling in many columns in this file of learning objectives. Thus though the list of objectives is long it does not provide a correspondence between a particular objective and a corresponding project (etc.). The column headings I used include:


In the downloadable file linked below you will read hundreds of objectives (in column one)and a source for each – in column four (including ED ERIC tesource numbers for some). Though I did not have internet access back then I would never have attempted any of this without a word processor (and software like Excel) 🙂 .

Another important early influence on the development of the Beyond the Classroom Aquarium curriculum was the insight I gained from reading the ERIC ED461511 document: Year of the Ocean, 1998. Marine Education, U.S.A.: An Overview – in which it is reported that in his 1997 keynote address to marine educators in attendance at the annual conference of the National Marine Educators Association, Admiral James D. Watkins expressed a crucial need for an addendum to the National Science Education Standards detailing how the ocean fits in with the cited standards.

Admiral (ret.) James Watkins, President of the Consortium for Ocean Research and Education (CORE), pointed out that, in fact, the ocean sciences comprise “one perfect implementation mechanism to meet national standards.” In his address to the National Marine Educators Association conference in Chicago, August 1997, he said, “The so-called content standards of the National Science Education Standards include categories, each of which I will discuss in conjunction with utilizing ocean sciences as the ideal implementing tool.” To this end, Admiral Watkins remarked on the following categories:

  • Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science. “The science of biochemistry, which is one of the most interdisciplinary fields ever developed, was invented by marine scientists in order to understand the global carbon budget and its role in controlling climate.”
  • Science as Inquiry. “Ocean science is still a science of untold discoveries. Each research cruise raises as many new questions as it answers old ones. Some refer to oceans as the last frontier here on earth.”
  • Physical Science. “Study of the sea covers every aspect of physics, from the classical dynamics of wave theory, to the most fundamental aspects of high energy physics related to how sea water interacts with deep undersea muons and neutrinos. It is these studies which will feed into our understanding of such seemingly unrelated subjects as nuclear fusion as an energy source.”
  • Life Science. “The ocean holds the key to the origins of life, as shown in the chemosynthetic behavior of deep-sea vent biota. How can life exist in the absence of sunlight,

These remarks had a major influence on my desire to design a curriculum like Beyond the Classroom Aquarium. Personally, because of them – writing this curriculum took on, among other things, an inspiring spirit of national patriotic duty.


Non-Trivial Aspects of the Project Sequence in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium that May Be Overlooked

5 Oct

Safety is the #1 top concern underlying all else discussed in this curriculum. Yet, understanding human nature, being as it is, may also help us better understand how safety may still be easily ovetlooked in the excitement to desiign and assemble an aquatic ecosystem or amazing ecosystem component. SAFETY is not trivial! Please be safe.

Next, no one disregards the issue of money for long. It is absolutely nontrivial. So before addressing other issues suggested by the title of this post I’ll take a moment to address this wild elephant sitting in the middle of the room – money.

Above and beyond almost all else (e.g. safety), first and foremost in our desire to provide the highest quality educational environment for every student, we must apportion funds. Thus, a detailed curriculum budget must be determined. And while we cannot forsee particular design/build ideas that each group of our highly challenged and motivated students will work on, a thoughtfully detailed general budget cannot be overlooked by anyone wanting to implement this (or any) curriculum successfully. I am sure many readers, upon first consideration of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium utter a comment something like “this is way too expensive.” And I understand their concerns….

Perhaps a percentage of readers who first view this curriculum are not turned off by potentially high curricular expenses. As a teacher myself, I often wondered what I’d do if I had a unlimited budget. So I developed my own vision of a dreamland budget “plan” and called it: Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.” In reality, I never had a “great” curriculum budget but with my plan in mind, I wondered too what measures i might take so that i could still provide all my students with a fabulous learning experience – all year long. Thus, one page in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, is dedicated to helping educators organize their project mindset and devise a workable budget for their own teaching/learning setting. Fundraisers, donations (corporate or personal), grants, university students seeking internships, asking for help, etc. may provide money, materials, equipment and/or personnel to assist with curriculum implementation.

Once a teacher determines a budgetary plan for implementing this curriculum – from the first day of school, and forward from then – will be well served by considering non “big item” yet nontrivial curriculum ideas like those described below.

Although many projects require intense amounts of design and assembly from students, there is actually NO expectation of specific DIY “expertise” (plumbing, electronics, woodworking, coding, etc.) from the teacher. However, general project management skills that involve timely requests for assistance from local (expert) tradespersons (often though not always disguised as parents) are overidingly essential! I believe that without recognizing the need for help and using communication skills to request help, most teachers attempting to guide students through these projects, in one school year, will probably be less than 100% successful.

Defining space within each unique classroom to be dedicated to aquatic ecosystem space (including some space for storage…) and mapping it out (conservatively) is an important aspect of the curriculum. Ensuring that student designed and assembled systems fit the lab layout map (footprint) and systems in it is an important aspect of the curriculum that is essential for student success in subsequent design and assembly activities, not to mention ecosystem productivities.

Building (& framing) structures upon which ecosystem components will be placed is also easily overlooked but as with all of the best’ infrastructures’ just because they blend into the background does not in any way diminish their contribution to the end product. Strong and balanced foundations are essential to safety, successful function and esthetics.

Including routes for plumbing and wiring in the map design are essential and must not be placed as an afterthought. As essential components of the ecosystem infrastructure well placed routes will enhance system safety, maintenance – access – function and esthetics.

From the earliest projects, the curriculum also emphasizes the importance and power of team and group decision making and a healthy practice of critiquing activities.

From the first day of class, other super important features of the curriculum that may not be apparent include: introductory art, vocabulary and observational “mindset framing” activities; reinforcement of the aquatic ecosystem space as a field trip environment; actual field trip events; the range of assessment activities at the end of each project (useful for educators who desire ways to differentiate projects and assessment activities/projects in order to best meet learning needs of every student); AND correspondingly individualized and competency based math activities.

I conclude here. I believe countless interwoven and underlying features of this Beyond the Classroom Aquarium curriculum (such as those mentioned here) dramatically increase the power and effectiveness of this sequence of enjoyable learning activities. Indeed, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is far more than just another aquaculture curriculum produced by experts with big budgets (often grant funded) and unlimited space and time. This is a curriculum for my real world classroom teacher colleagues and kids. I believe you really can do this, with a little help from your friends 🙂 .

Gravity flow water circulation
A Beyond the Classroom Aquatium project; a broodstock larval rearing system

RE:’s Ongoing Effort to Provide Unique, Open Source, Technological Opportunities for Local Students to Engage in a Full Spectrum of Authentic “State of the Art” Environmental Data Collection/Analysis Processes (hardware and software)

19 Jul

It has now been more than 23 months since (Beyond the Classroom Aquarium &) I first received an exciting announcement from – about FieldKit50 awards – shared below. Every day, since receiving the announcement from them, I have been imagining what this awesome FieldKit opportunity will provide for students in my sphere of influence (via camps, school and park district programs and other formal/nonformal educational plarforms) etc.

During our 2020-2022 Covid existence, the virus (among other things as described in FieldKit’s blog) have been delaying FieldKit’s efforts to expediently fulfill the FieldKit water-station shipment commitments they were dedicated to prior to the full emergence of today’s world-wide economic and socio-political ‘s viral gridlock. Please see this FieldKit blog that describes some or their recent setbacks and amazing efforts to resolve factors that have been delaying successful completion of their product development mission.

As I await the next contact from I have faith that they are engaged in an ongoing process to fulfill their offer to provide a unique technological opportunity for local students to engage in authentic “State of the Art” environmental data collection (and citizen science fieldwork) – Thank You for Your Ongoing Efforts

As of June 21, 2022 and despite occasional but reassuring email corresponence from FieldKit, I believe readers of this Beyond the Classroom Aquarium blog/post will be interested to see exactly when ships their FielkKit water-station to me.

i also wonder if still intends to produce a blog post that publically introduces all fifty FieldKit50 winners? I wonder if the other 49 contest awardees have been as on edge about this as much as i have. To me, I am beginning to feel that receiving the water-station now symbolizes some kind of return to a more stable/reliable pre-virus existence

Below is a copy of an email announcement I received on June 23, 2020.

Exciting News about your #FieldKit50 Application

Congratulations Bob, you’re getting a FieldKit!

After reviewing almost 200

Congratulations Bob, you’re getting a FieldKit!

After reviewing almost 200 entries from all around the world, we’ve chosen you as a winner of our #FieldKit50 giveaway. We’re so excited to see how you end up using your station. Here are the important details:

We’re going to put together a blog post announcing you and the rest of the winners in the coming days. We’ll be following up in a couple of weeks to….

Stations will ship in Fall, 2020 (our production schedule has been impacted by COVID-19). We’ll get you a more exact date when we have one.

Feel free to share the good news!

We’d love it if you used the #FieldKit50 tag & linked to our website: where possible. And….


The FieldKit team”

If you are at all familiar with my Beyond the Classroom Aquarium curriculum you will understand how excruciatingly awesome it was to receive this announcement. I have only been able to imagine sharing this kind of technology with students for the past 30 years!

I’m looking forward to exploring this FieldKit technology with local students & project teams for years to come. Thanks to FieldKit & Conservify, someday soon many students will have fabulous “state-of-the-art” opportunities to learn a lot more about current best-practices & technologies used for environmental monitoring, data collection & analysis & formulation of environmental policy & practical applications to pursue based on data/science & beyond.

Although by October 29, 2021 it seemed FieldKit would soon complete final rebuild & performance testing of water units and be rolling them off the FieldKit production line (released for purchase), it seems as of June 21, 2022 more unexpected delays have prevented shipping. I am looking forward to receiving a FieldKit water station. In the meantime, I will continue seeking ways to support local businesses and neighbors and hope you will try this too for those in your corner of the world.

Thank you FieldKit for your ongoing efforts and gallant mission.

“…to give people the tools to measure the world around them and empower everyone to advocate for the environment. FieldKit aims to dramatically reduce the cost of research-grade environmental sensors, and to simplify the processes of data management, visualization and sharing.” (2019, FieldKit in the Real World)

I have not given up on you!

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