Western Dakota Tech (WDT) took first place in the National Science Foundation’s 2018 Community College Innovation Challenge for our innovative aquaponics project. As a continuation of this success, we propose to implement aquaponics in a middle school classroom as a STEM education tool. Not only would this project effectively engage students, help students learn and retain scientific principles, and understand systems-level processes, but it would provide a pathway into already established STEM tracks in high school and subsequently WDT. This project could serve as a model for other K-12 schools to integrate similar technology into their own curriculum.
Planting the Pond will have four main objectives: 1.) to design, construct, and implement a medium-sized aquaponics system in a middle school STEM classroom that has already integrated concepts in sustainable agriculture into their curriculum, 2.) to supplement current curriculum with our aquaponics expertise through demonstrations and interactive lectures, 3.) to organize a culinary event featuring the produce grown with the classroom system, and 4.) to provide a pathway into already-established secondary and post-secondary STEM education tracks.
For the Planting the Pond Project, Western Dakota Tech has partnered with East Middle School to implement aquaponics into their curriculum. Instructors at this middle school have created STEM programming that ultimately addresses the problem of food insecurity in our community. They have a goal of fostering a land stewardship mindset among their students while promoting local foods. Their 5-year goal is to have students produce enough crops in a greenhouse to supply their school’s cafeteria with fresh vegetables and greens.
An MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was established between WDT and East Middle School for this project.
In order to help East Middle School meet their curricular goals, we designed a fully automated aquaponics system that is being integrated into both STEM and non-STEM classrooms (English, et. al.). Students in WDT’s Computer-Aided Design Program used CREO Parametric 3D modeling software to build the concept digitally, which allow us to correct interference while increasing the efficiency of usable space before construction. Currently, the CAD students are creating virtual reality and augmented reality walk-throughs in Autodesk REVIT. They intend to 3-D print the design using a Stratasys uPrint, which will give us a hands-on model. All CAD materials are currently being updated and converted into a shareable format, and will be attached as deliverables in the final report. We will provide models, documents (assembly/blueprints), renderings, stills, live walk-throughs, video walk-throughs, and/or augmented reality formats.
The unit was designed to be easily and fully accessible to students, with grow beds at a kid’s height and a fish tank with a window. The entire system was built to be modular (cord/plug sensors versus hard-wired) for easy part replacement in the future.
Upon construction, we integrated cutting-edge process control technology. We used Bluebeam to design wiring schematics of the electrical circuits. Using Rockwell software with an Allen Bradley Micro820 PLC with an HMI, we connected digital sensors to observe various parameters which can be monitored from any internet-connected device. The ability to precisely measure and control numerous variables allows us to make necessary adjustments in real time.
In addition to the design work performed by the CAD team, a Planting the Pond logo was designed for the project by WDT’s Marketing and Website Coordinator.
For construction of the unit, we acquired necessary materials, including grow beds, holding tanks, lighting, control systems, and structural components. Due to back-ordered items, there were substantial delays in the construction process.
Students from WDT’s Electrical Trades and Environmental Engineering Programs participated in the construction of the unit and students from our Welding Program welded the support stands (to support the weight of the grow bed, which was approximately 1 ton). The plumbing construction consisted of installing pumps, a swirl filter, and bell siphons). Lids for the fish tank and the swirl tank were added as a safety feature. Both were etched by the CAD department with project logos.
The electrical control process was commissioned under the Electrical Trades program and is the most advanced program to date for our larger aquaponics project. Documentation of the program is attached.
After construction, WDT students did testing and troubleshooting of the system.
Overall, about 175 man-hours were put into the construction and testing of this unit.
Construction was complete in early February 2020 and the unit was installed at East Middle School on February 27, 2020. Fish will be delivered to East Middle School on March 2.
The next phase of this project will include the optimization of the ecological conditions of the system, based largely on biological surface area calculations, and the operating conditions will be described to optimally balance plant and fish growth. This data-driven component is necessary a.) to serve as a point of comparison for other small aquaponics operations, b.) to describe the inputs (energy, water, fish feed) and outputs (edible crops and fish) required to maintain the system, c.) and to reconcile the water quality and lighting parameters that affect the survival and growth of the plants, fish, and nitrifying bacteria in the system. Parameters that will be optimized include pH, alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, specific conductivity, ambient air and water temperature, total suspended solids, nitrogen transformations, phosphate and iron levels, weekly water demand, and photo-period.
Currently, we are in the process of developing classroom curriculum and materials and deliverables will be attached to the next report.
This project has been presented at the South Dakota Local Foods Conference, and will be presented at the upcoming Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference and Rapid City Earth Day Expo.
Due to the construction delays, we anticipate holding the culinary event around December 2020.
PATHWAYS TO ESTABLISHED SECONDARY AND POST-SECONDARY STEM EDUCATION TRACKS
In the fall of 2020, Rapid City Area School (RCAS) District launched a pathways approach that will provide all students with access to career-connected learning experiences. The incoming 9th grade class was the inaugural year of the RCAS Academies. Within the Academy of Science and Engineering, students are exposed to a variety of career opportunities in Engineering and Agricultural Sciences. This Planting the Pond project is expected to help guide interested students into this Academy, where they can pursue pathways in Engineering, Natural Resources, Animal Science, and Environmental Science. The ultimate goal is to have K-12 students continue their pathway into programs at Technical Colleges around the state of SD.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Youth: During the design and construction phase of this project, approximately 30 students toured WDT and had the opportunity to learn from this project. The second phase of this project will see a large increase in the number of youth reached.
Curricula, Fact sheets, Other Educational Tools: For this project a mid-scale aquaponics unit was built to be used as an educational tool related to sustainable farming practices. The electrical automation program (PLC) designed for this aquaponics system is an open-source product of this project. The Computer-Aided Design materials have been developed and are currently being converted to a shareable-format so they are not included in this count. Curricular materials are currently being developed for classroom use.
Published Press Articles, Newsletters: 2 pending publications, 1 pending news story
Tours: During the design and construction phase of this project, numerous programs toured WDT’s aquaponics projects: U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson, Fork Real Community Cafe, Stevens Middle School, Harvest Table for Good, Pangea Design Group, Rose Group International, Rapid City Earth Day Planning Committee, EchoWorks, Live Move Be Farms, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Faculty, Farmers Market Board of Directors, DRB Beekeeping and Supplies, et al. We anticipate many tours to East Middle School during the upcoming Education phase of the project.
Webinars, Talks, Presentations: This project has been presented at the SD Local Foods Conference and a Rapid City Area School Board Meeting. Additionally, this work will be presented at the 2020 Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference.
Educators: In addition to educators at East Middle School, instructors from South Middle School, Stevens High School, and Central High School have toured WDT’s aquaponics program and have expressed interest in implementing “Planting the Pond” at their respective institutions.
Other Adult Participants: Over 80 students from WDT’s Environmental Engineering, Electrical Trades, Welding, and Computer-Aided Design Programs have participated in or have been exposed to the design/preparation phase of this project.
Learning outcomes will be assessed in the second phase of this project. Phase I was primarily focused on design and construction. Phase II will focus on the education component of the project.
As a result of Dr. Kelsey Murray and Bryan Mitchell's work on this and other sustainable agriculture projects, Western Dakota Tech's President and Vice President for Teaching and Learning have approved a campus-wide Sustainability Initiative.
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