Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
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Exploring Aquaponics (Grades K-2)
K - 2
The students will identify the basic needs of plants and fish and engineer, assemble, maintain, and observe a small-scale aquaponics system that meets plant and fish needs.
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Needs of a Plant PowerPoint
- 5 potted plants (choose 5 of the same plant)
- Plant Observation Sheet
- Ocean Live Cam
- Fish Needs Cards
- 5 hula hoops
- What is Aquaponics? video
- The Aquaponics Cycle diagram
- Meeting Needs activity sheet
- Classroom Aquaponics System Assembly and Maintenance Guide
- Materials listed on page 3 of the Classroom Aquaponics System Assembly and Maintenance Guide
- Science journals
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Classroom Aquaponics System Assembly and Maintenance Guide
- Meeting Needs Activity Sheet
- The Aquaponics Cycle Diagram
- Fish Needs Cards
- Plant Observation Sheet
- Needs of a Plant PowerPoint
aquaculture: the cultivation of aquatic organisms (such as fish or shellfish) especially for food
aquaponics: a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water
decomposition: the process of breaking down or being broken down into simpler parts or substances especially by the action of living things (as bacteria or fungi)
fertilizer: any material of natural or synthetic origin that is applied to soils or plant tissues to supply one or more nutrients essential to plant growth
gills: the paired respiratory organ found in many aquatic organisms that extracts dissolved oxygen from water and excretes carbon dioxide
hydroponics: the method of cultivating plants using a mineral nutrient solution in a water solvent without the use of soil
nutrient: a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life
photosynthesis: the process by which a green plant turns water and carbon dioxide into food when the plant is exposed to light
respiration: the process through which a plant exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide with its environment
spawn: release or deposit eggs
stomata: tiny openings or pores, mostly found on the under-surface of plant leaves that are used for gas exchange
symbiotic relationship: close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but do not necessarily, benefit each member
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- A wide variety of foods—lettuce, beans, broccoli, cucumbers, peas, herbs, strawberries, melons, and tomatoes, for example—all flourish through aquaponics farming.1
- The most commonly cultured fish in commercial aquaponics are tilapia species. Channel catfish, largemouth bass, crappies, rainbow trout, pacu, carp, goldfish, perch, Arctic char, Barramundi, and Murray cod are also successfully raised in aquaponics systems.2
- Aquaponics is featured in the Epcot Living with the Land attraction at Disney World's Epcot Center in Florida. The attraction doubles as a working lab for USDA and NASA, and the food grown there is served at the resort.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask the students, "Where is the food you eat grown?" After discussing the student responses, ask them if they think food can be grown in the middle of a big city.
- View the video Aquaponics – Pass the Plate.
- Ask the students why it might be beneficial to raise fish and plants together in one system. Use the following points to guide the discussion:
- The fish waste is not released into the environment.
- The waste produced by the fish is used as fertilizer for the plants.
- The plants purify the water for the fish.
- Food can be produced using less water than traditional growing methods. This allows food to be produced during droughts or in areas with little water.
- Fish and vegetables can be raised at the same time.
- Food can be produced in a small space and does not require fertile soil.
- Food can be grown in highly populated urban areas where fertile soil is scarce.
- Food can be produced indoors where weather and pests are less of a problem.
- No weeding is required.
- Explain to the students that they are going to learn about the basic needs of plants and fish so that they will be prepared to care for them in a classroom aquaponics system that they will assemble, maintain, and observe.
Activity 1: Needs of a Plant
- Ask the students if they have ever taken care of a plant. If they have, ask them to describe what they did to care for their plant.
- Ask the students, "What are the basic needs of plants?" (nutrients, water, air, and light) Use the Needs of a Plant PowerPoint to introduce the four basic needs of a plant.
- Divide the class into four groups. Assign each group one of the needs of a plant.
- Provide each group with a potted plant. The fifth plant is the "control" plant. Show the students the control plant and explain that this plant will receive everything it needs to live and grow—nutrients, water, air, and light.
- Each group will design an investigation to find out if their plant can survive without their assigned need. For example, if a group was assigned "light," they will design an investigation to determine if their plant can survive without light.
- Allow each group time to brainstorm ideas about how to design their investigation. Tell students to keep in mind that they are limited to easily available materials that can be found either in the classroom or at home. Be sure to visit with each group during the brainstorming process to give guidance and feedback.
- After the necessary materials are gathered, have each group set up their investigation. Provide each student with a Plant Observation Sheet and give students time to record their observations each day for two weeks.
- After the two-week observation period, have each group meet together to summarize their observations and interpret their findings. Provide time for each group to share their findings with the class.
Activity 2: Needs of a Fish
- Ask the students, "What do you need to survive?" (food, water, air, and shelter) Ask the students if they think fish have the same or different needs. Discuss their responses and guide them to the understanding that fish have the same basic needs as humans.
- View an Ocean Live Cam. Using the information from the Background – Agricultural Connections to discuss how the needs of the fish seen in the live cam are being met.
- Choose a large outdoor area or gymnasium to represent the ocean. Tell the students that they are going to play "Fish Tag" and they are all fish. Assign 5-10 students to be predators. Spread all of the Fish Needs Cards and the five hula hoops around the ocean. Explain to the class that the fish will have three minutes to "swim" around the ocean collecting cards while trying to avoid being caught by the predators. If a predator tags a fish, the fish has been caught and is out of the game. Eaten fish will stand at the edge of the ocean. Each fish is trying to collect one food card, one water card, and one air card before time is up. The hula hoops represent shelter. When a fish is standing inside a hula hoop, they are safe from predators and cannot be caught.
- After one round is complete, choose new predators and play again. Repeat the game until every child has had an opportunity to be a predator.
- Review with the students the importance of food, water, air, and shelter to the survival of a fish.
Activity 3: Design a Classroom Aquaponics System
- View the video What is Aquaponics? to explore an urban aquaponics farm. Explain to the students that this farm uses a large-scale aquaponics system to produce fish and vegetables. As a class, they will be assembling a small-scale system that meets the needs of fish and plants.
- Project The Aquaponics Cycle diagram onto a large screen. Use the following information to discuss the cycle with the students:
- Fish produce waste. The fish waste contains ammonia, which will poison the fish unless it is filtered out. In an aquaponics system, the water from the fish tank, including the fish waste, is pulled up to the plant trays through a pump.
- Microbes convert waste into nutrients. The ammonia in the fish waste that is present in the water being pumped into the plant trays is quickly converted into nutrients by the bacteria naturally present in the trays.
- Plants filter the water that returns to the fish. The nutrients are absorbed by the plants. This process filters the water. The clean water is drained back into the tank, providing a fresh source of water for the fish.
- Show the class the basic materials needed to assemble the classroom aquaponics system—two clear plastic containers, expanded clay pellets, water pump, tubing, grow light, fish cave, water, fish, and plants. Ask the students how they think the materials can be used to create an aquaponics system that meets the needs of the fish and the plant.
- Arrange the students in small groups. Incorporating the materials shown, ask each group to design an aquaponics system that meets the needs of fish and plants. Have the groups sketch their design and share their ideas with the class.
- After the students share their ideas, use the Classroom Aquaponics System Assembly and Maintenance Guide instructions to assemble the system as a class. Compare the system from the guide with the class designs.
- Pass out the Meeting Needs activity sheets to each student. Ask the students, "What are the basic needs of plants? (Plants need nutrients, water, air, and light.) Write the basic needs on the board and instruct students to fill in the "Plant Needs" column of the activity sheet with one of the basic needs of a plant in each row.
- Ask students if plants need water to come from rain, light to come from the sun, and nutrients to come from the soil. Discuss the concept that water, light, and nutrients can come from other sources.
- Discuss and record in the "Meeting Plant Needs" column how plant needs are met in an aquaponics system. Nutrients come from the fish waste, water comes from the fish tank, air comes from the classroom, and light comes from the grow light.
- Ask the students, "What are the basic needs of a fish?" (Fish need food, water, air, and shelter.) Instruct the students to fill in the "Fish Needs" column with one of the basic needs of a fish in each row.
- Discuss and record in the "Meeting Fish Needs" column how fish needs are met in an aquaponics system. Clean water comes from water that is filtered by the plants and drained into the fish tank, air is present in the water, and shelter is provided by the rock cave in the fish tank. Point out that food for the fish is not provided within the aquaponics system and must be provided for the fish each day. All of the fish and plant needs are taken care of within the system with the exception of food for the fish.
- Allow time each school day for students to feed the fish and gather, record, and interpret data in their science journals about the system's water quality, water temperature, fish behavior, and plant growth. Using the data gathered, make any adjustments necessary to maintain a balanced system.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Nutrients, water, air, and light are the basic needs of plants.
- Food, water, air, and shelter are the basic needs of fish.
- Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. The waste produced by fish provides nutrients for the plants, which in turn purify the water.
- An aquaponics system meets all the needs of fish and plants with the exception of food for the fish.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Use the plants grown in the classroom aquaponics system in a simple recipe the students can make and taste, like the Garden Fresh Dill Dip Recipe using fresh dill and parsley.
Have the students make a gyotaku fish print and label the print with the parts of a fish. Follow the instructions in the activity Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Printing Fish.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Printing Fish (Activity)
- How Do You Grow a Fish Sandwich? Video (Multimedia)
State Standards for Utah
Kindergarten: Science Standard 4Students will gain an understanding of Life Science through the study of changes in organisms over time and the nature of living things.
Objective 1Investigate living things. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: b) Compare and contrast young plants and animals with their parents. c) Describe some changes in plants and animals that are so slow or so fast that they are hard to see (e.g., seasonal change,“fast” blooming flower, slow growth, hatching egg).
Objective 2Describe the parts of living things. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: b) Identify major parts of plants, e.g., roots, stem, leaf, flower, trunk, branches. c) Compare the parts of different animals, e.g., skin, fur, feathers, scales; hand, wing, flipper, fin.
Grade 1: Science Standard 4Students will gain an understanding of Life Science through the study of changes in organisms over time and the nature of living things.
Objective 1Communicate observations about the similarities and differences between offspring and between populations. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: a) Communicate observations about plants and animals, including humans, and how they resemble their parents. b) Analyze the individual similarities and differences within and across larger groups.
Objective 2Living things change and depend upon their environment to satisfy their basic needs. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: a) Make observations about living things and their environment using the five senses. b) Identify how natural earth materials (e.g., food, water, air, light, and space), help to sustain plant and animal life. c) Describe and model life cycles of living things.
Grade 2: Science Standard 4Students will gain an understanding of Life Science through the study of changes in organisms over time and the nature of living things.
Objective 1Tell how external features affect an animals’ability to survive in its environment. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: a) Compare and contrast the characteristics of living things in different habitats. b) Develop, communicate, and justify an explanation as to why a habitat is or is not suitable for a specific organism.
Objective 2Identify basic needs of living things (plants and animals) and their abilities to meet their needs. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: a) Communicate and justify how the physical characteristics of living things help them meet their basic needs. b) Observe, record, and compare how the behaviors and reactions of living things help them meet their basic needs. c) Identify behaviors and reactions of living things in response to changes in the environment including seasonal changes in temperature and precipitation.
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Identify examples of feed/food products eaten by animals and people (T2.K-2.c)
- Identify the importance of natural resources (e.g., sun, soil, water, minerals) in farming (T2.K-2.e)
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
2-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
2-LS2-1Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.
K-2-ETS1: Engineering Design
K-2-ETS1-2Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
K-LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
K-LS1-1Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.