What do fish, robots, math, and the environment have in common? Students at Ridgeland High School in Walker County, Georgia are making those connections in an innovative interdisciplinary program developed by Josh Hurst, engineering teacher, Pete Davis, agriculture teacher, Sandy Weathers, advanced placement environmental science teacher, and mathematics teacher Mike Afdahl. The school is making productive use of the Title II ARRA Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) grant it received from the Georgia Department of Education. The four teachers work together to plan projects that involve collecting data to conduct scientific research on the seven fish aquaponics tanks that are housed in the school’s greenhouse. The fish hatchery is the playground for serious science, engineering, and math as students in the engineering class are building a robot that measures and collects water quality parameters while AP environmental science and agriculture students determine investigative questions to pursue.
“It’s interesting that there’s so much to such a small organism. They actually require a lot of care,” says senior Vicktoria Capehart. She uses a calculator and an electronic probe to test the water quality in the giant plastic bins that house fish. With the calculators, students make tables and charts for data crunching that tie in concepts from math classes.
Capehart said it’s critical that levels of chemicals and oxygen in the water are constantly monitored for the animals to survive. By tracking the weight of the fish, students recently discovered that the food they were using wasn’t formulated correctly. She said they were able to change the food to help get the group of underweight fish back on track. Capehart said such work is a nice change of pace from other courses that keep students tied to desks and textbooks. “This is hands-on, and we’re actually applying it to real life,” she said.