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Aquaponics at Riverbend

Riverbend partners with schools and teachers to implement Aquaponics as an interactive educational platform to engage students in nature-based STEM learning. Built in 2015, our state-of-the-art 300 square foot aquaponics greenhouse is a lving learning laboratory that advances Riverbend’s mission of environmental literacy.

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What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is an agricultural method that combines aquaculture (raising fish in a controlled environment) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. Another essential participant in the closed-loop system is bacteria that converts the ammonia from the fish waste into nitrates, a form of nitrogen that plants need to grow.

Advantages to growing food by means of aquaponics include:

  • Low water usage -- only 1/10 the volume required by soil-based gardening
  • No harmful chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides are used
  • It grows more food in less space than soil-based gardening
  • It grows protein in the form of fish simultaneously with vegetables.
  • Most systems are located at waist height, making planting and harvesting easier

Aquaponics is a sustainable, natural method of agriculture for the future. With an estimated human world population of more than 9 billion people by 2050, experts are predicting water and food scarcity will become more common, making aquaponics a relevant and timely topic to explore.

Building STEM Skills through Aquaponics

Implementing an integrated curriculum that enables teachers to investigate deeply in a single topic across multiple subject areas, aquaponics provides experiential learning opportunities that engage students in STEM topics, food systems, farming production and sustainability. It invites students to think critically about how community and societal goals can be met using agricultural practices such as aquaponics. Through this program, students will practice science skills in developing investigable questions, collecting and analyzing data and communicating science content.

Riverbend offers a comprehensive program that will provide teachers with all the tools they need to build their STEM classroom, bringing theoretical principles to life and enabling students to see for themselves the real impact of sustainable systems on the environment. Students learn first-hand how the nitrogen cycle works and investigate the natural systems that rely on this process. They will be able to apply what they learn about bacteria to many other areas of study; they will explore where our food comes from and how our current food systems impact our environment. They will also recognize how water conservation is crucial in smaller communities and globally.

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This program includes:

Curriculum Guide: 20+ activities that bring Aquaponics to life in your classroom. Activities are geared toward elementary and middle school students but may be adapted to fit your needs.

Teacher Professional Development: Teachers will learn how the Aquaponics system works, delve into science content, and practice inquiry-based curriculum activities.

Classroom System: A 20-gallon classroom aquaponics system and all necessary equipment will be provided and installed, ideally in a workshop with your students. Riverbend will provide ongoing maintenance for one year for your system. This helps ensure your system is thriving so you can focus on lessons.

Technical Support: Teachers will work directly with Riverbend experts during the first few critical weeks after the tank is installed to ensure the nitrogen cycle occurs properly and the tank is successful.  Riverbend provides ongoing technical support including end of year breakdown of systems in the first school year.  Ongoing technical support after year 1 is available.

Community of Practice:  Students will submit their data to Riverbend where it can be compiled into large data sets that can be analyzed and compared against peer schools. Teachers will connect through our online forum being developed to troubleshoot and share success stories and creative ideas.

Field Trip: Students will visit Riverbend for a full-day experience presented by skilled aquaponics educators. The field trip includes a science investigation and tour of the aquaponics greenhouse at Riverbend.

Programs for Aquaponics Partner Schools

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The Aquaponics Ecosystem Field Trip

Aquaponics is an ecosystem that relies on natural processes to work properly. On this field trip, students will explore Riverbend's 300-square foot Aquaponics greenhouse and compare it to a natural stream and a forest. They will investigate what makes a healthy ecosystem, as well as the threats that could damage an ecosystem.

2.5 Hour Field Trip Program

Register Here

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Riverbend On The Road In-classroom Programs

The Past, Present, and Future of Food (45 Minutes)

The Mysterious Ecosystem of Riverbend Island (45 Minutes)

To register, contact Erin McCool, Director of Education and Strategic Intiatives at 610-527-5234 x 112

For more information please contact

emccool 2021

Erin McCool

Director of Education and Strategic Initiatives

Aquaponics Success Stories

How Alex P. became an Aquaponics Farmer in 8th Grade

Like a Boss: How Riverbend’s Aquaponics Program Prepares Kyra for the Future

Riverbend EEC, Norristown Area School District Win Award