Tag Archives: Student Centered

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 🙂 .

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

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium – A Non-Fiction Title for STEM Educators

19 Jun

 Beyond the Classroom Aquarium learning projects have been designed for use by all learners!

One trend in the field of educational analysis that interests me is the seeming increase in the proportion of pedagogists who are proponents of skillfully applied ‘educational craftsmanship’ by which every educator may implement strategies to more effectively apply his or her personal voice/vision during day to day work with students and also obtain more personally relevant professional development. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is my “grass-roots” contribution in support the development of autonomous pedagogical craftsmanship. I believe some peers will appreciate that it offers much more than just another educational twist on the recent trend in aquaculture curricula.

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium presents a curricular sequence of 14 project based, STEM-Oriented aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities students will love. Some use it as a curriculum resource; others as a ‘take action now’ project guide. Many educators who use it with their own students or participate in a related workshop/class also find that they are being guided to refine & implement their own personalized educational voice/vision.

In addition to being educationally valuable, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium projects are affordably scalable. A plethora of suggestions to help budget challenged educators make affordable project modifications are provided throughout the book.

As you review information provided here, please try to imagine scaling and implementing one or more Beyond the Classroom Aquarium project for your students – in your learning space.

“Many educators will find practical value in this innovatively hybridized curriculum….”

“I’m not familiar with another project based, aquatic ecosys-STEM themed curriculum  that is as comprehensive.”



                                                  “I am impressed….”

The above remarks were expressed by #NMEA15 conference (National Marine Educators Association) attendees who sat down with me, during the conference (in Newport, RI), and reviewed Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.


The NMEA is a branch of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that focuses on increasing knowledge of the world of water and the practice of educating people about it. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was recently mentioned in the “New Books and Media” section in the Fall 2016 edition of: Current: The Journal of Marine Education; a “peer-reviewed journal of the National Marine Educators Association. Current features lively, in-depth articles and learning activities relating to all aspects of the world of water….”

Until Dec 31, 2016, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was available as an 8.5″ by 11″ softcover book available through Createspace’s “Print on Demand” (POD) service. It is 347 pages in length. This book provides guidance and structure that educators find useful for effectively leading students through a yearlong Curricular Sequence of 14 Project Based, STEM Oriented Aquatic Ecosystem Themed Learning Activities Their Students Will Love. Designed to start on the first day of school and continue throughout the year, I believe innovative educators will find a lifetime’s worth of projects and ideas in this book (through which they may guide their students. It is now available through the Kindle Direct Publishing eStore.


Many individuals and organizations granted me permission to share their ideas with fellow educators (and students). These persons and organizations are acknowledged in the “Acknowledgement” post that is listed below.

I am deeply grateful to my many peers who have demonstrated a keen interest in reading Beyond the Classroom Aquarium and applying information presented in it as they work with their own students. Beyond the Classroom Aquarium was designed to be used from the first day of a new school year – every day – until the school year concludes. 

Although more information about the book is provided in the remaining text on this page, you may also read more about Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, it’s structure/format, and also review my grateful acknowledgements to those who have directly supported my efforts to pilot various activities with students by clicking on a link to one of the four bulleted posts below. The fourth post provides information that offers readers a fuller sense of my background and credibility as author of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium.

A General Overview of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium:  A Curricular Sequence of 14 Project-Based, STEM-Oriented, Aquatic Ecosystem Themed Learning Activities Your Students Will Love

Although titled: Beyond the Classroom Aquarium, the primary setting for the projects and activities described in this book is the classroom. However, scattered throughout the curriculum (particularly in the final five projects 10 – 14), despite the curriculum’s classroom setting, projects are designed to guide students to extend their application of skills and knowledge in STEM-Oriented and aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities well beyond their classrooms. The book’s title is intended to denote that the classroom activities and projects described in it are creative and transformative spin-offs of introductory classroom aquarium activities. Each of the seven chapters describes ways to guide secondary students through a structured sequence of aquatic ecosystem themed, STEM-oriented, project based learning activities.

By participating in the project based activities described in this book, students are exposed to concepts and skills that encompass but are not limited to: oceanography, physics, chemistry, biology, aquaponics, gardening; designing, critiquing, and constructing aquatic ecosystems (involving trades of carpentry, plumbing, and electronics); data collection, data analysis, design of auxiliary aquatic ecosystem components, microscopy, aquaculture, propagation of invertebrates, (from algae to coral), computer automation of aquatic ecosystem components, research design, community service, cultural awareness, public outreach (and public sharing of research results). Although most projects are designed to occur within a classroom setting, some activities are designed to help students directly apply developing knowledge and skills ” beyond  the classroom.

Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is an ambitious curriculum for in-service veteran educators, students in pre-service education programs and other educators who seek bold approaches for providing comprehensive, individualized and year-long STEM-Oriented instruction in a unique and high interest, aquatic ecosystem themed project based learning context. The material in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium serves as a curricular template that educators may follow in guiding their students through the structured sequence of activities described in the book.

Chapter and section introductions are designed to encourage teachers to both personalize and scale the activities in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium to best meet the needs of their own students, school and setting. Information in each chapter introduction is also intended to encourage autonomous teacher decisions and actions required to guide students through the project activities. Educators may supplement Beyond the Classroom Aquarium project work with other educational resources and textbooks of their own choosing. Throughout, teachers are encouraged to guide students through an individualized math curriculum and help them explore direct connections between the math concepts they are studying and math related aquatic ecosystem concepts. Technological and design/engineering related activities are also important components of every project.

The book provides enough structure and information to enable teachers to guide their students through a yearlong series of STEM-Oriented aquatic ecosystem themed learning projects. Yet most teachers will appreciate the encouragement they are given to utilize their own instructional autonomy, flexibility, and newly discovered resources, to thoughtfully deviate from the program described in the book. Many timely technical support suggestions teachers will find easy to follow are also provided.

Unlike other curricula, daily involvement with classroom aquarium projects in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium allows students expansive and authentic hands-on exploration, discovery, inquiry and knowledge development; all under the guidance of an educator; in the context of a classroom or other amenable educational setting.

Included among the key features and benefits students derive from participation in the yearlong series of projects in this thoughtful anthology of aquatic ecosystem themed learning activities, is the recurrent opportunity to authentically apply newly developing skills and knowledge with each successive project.

In addition to helping students achieve common standards, and exposing students to a structured sequence of high interest, hands-on aquatic ecosystem related activities in the areas mentioned above, Beyond the Classroom Aquarium is written so as to ensure that all students are critically challenged; nurtured to acquire entrepreneurial skills that enable them to turn ideas into action; and guided to develop a critical mix of success-oriented attitudes of initiative, intelligent risk-taking, collaboration, and opportunity recognition.

Thank you for visiting! Come on back and bring your friends, pets, peers, colleagues, students (and family).

Related articles (more to be added…. Your article / link suggestions are welcome!)

About Robert Jakus – (Training and Experience Related to Development of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium)

7 May

(a) Degree  Subject Area                 College/University                 

  • MA   Math Education             DePaul University, Chicago   
  • MS    Public Health                 University of Illinois, Chicago 
  • BA    Education                       University of Illinois, Chicago
  •   –      Academic & PreClinical Applied Health Sciences @ The                                                   College of Naprapathy, Chicago, Il (120 hours) 

(b)     Recent Positions             Institution/Company        Years

  • Pre-Calculus Instructor.        Brunswick College.                       2014
  • Math/Science Instructor  Waukegan Public Schools                2012-2002
  • Aquatic Ecosystem Club Sponsor  Waukegan Public Schools 2012-2010
  • Math Ed. Instructor (TFA)     Dominican University                Fall 2009
  • Calculus & Pre-Calculus Instructor College of Lake County   2005
  • Science of Personal Health Instructor, Triton College             1993-1992
  • Instructor, Academic Advisor, Math Tutor, Triton College     2002-1978
  • Math Instructor                 Harper College                                2002-2000
  • Math Instructor                 Cape Fear College                           2000-1999
  • Math Instructor                 Brunswick College                          2000-1999
  • Math Instructor                 Alamance College                           1998
  • Math Instructor                 Guilford Tech Com.College            1998-1997
  • Math Instructor                 High Point Central HS                    1997-1996

(c) Participation in academic/professional societies and other biographical information

  • Served 30 months, until September 2016, as board member and treasurer of the Oak Island, NC Beach Preservation Society Trust Fund.
  • November, 2015 at the MAMEA (Mid Atlantic Marine Educators Association) conference at the North Carolina Aquarium @ Fort Fisher, NC. Marine educators participated in assembly, operation & critique of four prototype classroom aquatic ecosystems (got their hands wet too). Educational applications in the classroom & beyond were explored.
  • June 2015, Presented a session titled: “Wide AND Deep: Curricular Baby Steps AND Beyond,” at the 2015 National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) conference “Ocean State, Ocean Planet, Exploring Our World of Water” in Newport, Rhode Island. At this session, I introduced NMEA members to the recently completed Beyond the Classroom Aquarium curriculum, and shared curriculum development and implementation experiences.
  • July 2014, National Marine Educators Association Conference, Annapolis, MD; presented – A Brood-Stock/Larval Rearing System Your Students Will Love (featuring a prototype system for session participants to view and help assemble) 
  • July 2011, National Marine Educators Association Conference, Boston, MA: presented – Student-Developed Coral Propagation and Brood-Stock/Larval-Rearing Aquatic Ecosystems  (featuring a prototype coral propagation system for session participants to view and help assemble) 
  • July 2010, National Marine Educators Association Conference Gatlinburg, TN: presented – 16 Aquatic Ecosystem Projects: A Secondary STEM Curriculum
  • Winter 2010, Student Development of a 500-Gallon Aquaponic System; National Marine Educators Association – Expanding Audiences Committee – Newsletter
  • July 2009, National Marine Educators Association Conference in Monterey, CA: presented – Aquatic Ecosystem Math: A Series of Projects to Integrate Math Instruction
  • July 2008, National Marine Educator’s Association Conference in Savannah, Georgia: presented – Peppermint Shrimp in the Classroom: A Model for Inquiry-Based Math/Science Activities
  • OCEANS ’07, in Vancouver, BC; presented – Mathematics of Aquatic Ecosystems – A Curriculum: Integration of Math Instruction Using a Sequence of 16 Aquatic Ecosystem Activities: published by the IEEE (2007)
  • 1999 Summer; Marine Quest Counselor; University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • 1998, Developed and presented Logical Puzzle Contests and Mental Calculation Curriculum for the School of Continuing Education (Arts & Sciences Summer Camp), University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Past and Present Organizational Affiliations and Professional Development

  • Member of National Marine Educators Association – through February 2017; member of expanding audiences committee (Great Lakes Educators of Aquatic and Marine Science [GLEAMS] and Mid Atlantic Marine Educators Association [MAMEA] local affiliates too)
  • Mote Laboratory Summer Class for Educators (1997: Sarasota and Pigeon Key, FL)
  • Marine-Lab Summer Class for Teachers (2007 – Key Largo, FL)
  • Florida State University (2003 – Using Inquiry in the Classroom – Five Week Summer Class for Teachers – Panama City, FL)
  • Horn Point Marine Laboratory, Cambridge, MD (2010 – Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence – one week summer workshop)
  • Shedd Aquarium Summer Class for Teachers: Biology in the Bahamas (2012, Shedd Aquarium and aboard the Coral Reef II R/V in the waters of Bimini for one week)
  • Past Member of the Marine Technology Society, National Council For the Teachers of Mathematics; Association for Education of the Gifted

In 2007, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published a 10-page explication of the book/curriculum (in its pre-published incarnation) which is dramatically different and improved in the published 2014 version described here and fully explained in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium. The IEEE article is based on Mr. Jakus’ 2007 presentation at the Oceans’07 conference in Vancouver, BC.

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.

* A Brief Overview of the Sequence of Projects in Beyond the Classroom Aquarium

* How is Beyond the Classroom Aquarium Different (Features of this Curriculum that Some Educators Find Appealing)? 

* Acknowledgement of Persons and Organizations that Supported the Development of System Prototypes and “Piloting” of Beyond the Classroom Aquarium Learning Projects

Please contact Robert Jakus directly for more information about Beyond the Classroom Aquarium. You may write to him via email at: robertjakus@yahoo.com.

Return to BEYOND the CLASSROOM AQUARIUM – HOME by clicking this link.

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