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

5 Oct Gravity flow water circulation

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. For many teachers this includes using funds from paychecks to fund programs for students.

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….

As you read about this curriculum, I hope you are not dissuaded by the obvious potential for high curricular expenses. Although I was aware of the expenses involved in implementing this curriculum I wrote it anyways. Throughout my teaching career, 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.” As a teacher, I never had a viable curriculum budget (aside from funds from my own personal paychecks). But with this curriculum in mind, I wondered too what measures I might take in order to 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 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 ūüôā .

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

Project Sequence in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium (and related professional development workshop)

15 Apr

In Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, students are guided through a structured sequence of 14 STEM-oriented aquatic ecosystem based activities in which they have opportunities to work on a range of activities that extend across a wide spectrum of complexity ranging between work with the simplest aquatic ecosystems and humblest single celled organisms, to work with highly complex organisms and aquatic ecosystems that utilize many modern technologies (including microcontrollers, stepper motors, motor drivers, circuitry, CAD, and 3-D printing).

In total, the book is 347 pages. Two chapters (the introductory chapter and a concluding chapter with an awesome final assessment activity) are featured to help teachers begin AND end the Beyond the Classroom Aquarium school year successfully.

The sequence of fourteen projects, that comprise the body of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium have been segmented into five chapters according to the natural progression of the educational activities in each successive project. In general, these five chapters are broken down as follows:

  1. Introductory knowledge, decisions, and activities related to upcoming projects involving design, assembly, and investigation of three primary classroom aquatic ecosystems
  2. Projects that guide each student team to complete design, assembly, and operation stages related to one unique classroom aquatic ecosystem (although not required, concurrent coordination of design, assembly and operation stages for each ecosystem/team is intended to result in the operational presence of numerous classroom systems in the shortest time)
  3. Additional team projects involving design, assembly, and application of auxiliary classroom aquatic ecosystem components and technologies
  4. Research project on classroom aquatic ecosystem and/or organism
  5. Implementation of aquatic ecosystem skills and knowledge whereby students are guided to apply such knowledge and skills beyond the classroom. 

Educators who want to use aquatic ecosystems as a medium for integration of instruction in fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, (STEM) and beyond will find Beyond the Classroom Aquarium a useful guide. While beginning with modest classroom aquariums, the compilation of information and project descriptions in this book help teachers guide students to utilize tools of math and technology to design, assemble, and investigate (scaled to fit within their respective classroom space) three unique and fully operational aquatic ecosystems along with a number of auxiliary system components.

Most students who finish project eight are prepared (with adequate knowledge and skills) to design an aquatic ecosystem research project. In project nine they are guided to propose such a project and execute it.

The curriculum is designed so that students become more progressively involved in the design, construction, and/or maintenance of a number of aquatic ecosystems, from the first project Рbeyond. They work and have fun, while learning/applying core skills and concepts (in science, technology, engineering and math) in ecologically authentic aquatic ecosystem contexts, that reinforce development of a genuine sense of environmental stewardship.

Over the years, many educators have used one or more of the unique aquatic ecosystem projects described/compiled in this book as a stand-alone educational activity or project. In Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, the author has seamlessly merged a carefully selected set of heretofore stand-alone aquatic ecosystem themed activities into an integrated STEM-oriented curricular plan.

Please¬†provide your contact information along with your comments AND¬†I will¬†forward¬†a copy Beyond the Classroom Aquarium’s table of contents for you to review – if you request it.

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.

To return to the BEYOND the CLASSROOM AQUARIUM ‚Äď HOME¬† click here.

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