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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Gardening Enables Interdisciplinary Learning

High school student Pierre combined biology, math, economics, and more to transform his campus greenhouse into a sustainable aquaponic system that provides fresh vegetables for the cafeteria.
Transcript

How Gardening Enables Interdisciplinary Learning (Transcript)

Pierre: When I take students out of class and bring them up here to help me they honestly have no idea what it is. I get a lot of the same questions all the time. You know, “What is it? Oh, the plants are feeding the fish and the fish are feeding the plants.” And “How does it work?”

Regina Dvorak: What he did on his own in his greenhouse is real life. It’s real food production. It’s a real solution to the food problem. The idea is incredibly inspiring.

Pierre: My mom is really into gardening so she decided that she wanted to have a greenhouse on our property. And we decided it would be a good idea to kinda check out some different alternatives as to what you could put in a greenhouse. So we decided to go to the University of Nevada Reno for a workshop basically on hydroponics and it just intrigued me. I said, “Mom, listen. I think I could build one of these systems if I had the money to do it.” So I had a little bit of money in the bank and I decided to spend it on the greenhouse.

Mary: He just took off with it and at some point there was, you know, two to three to four trips every weekend to-- going to Home Depot to buy things. And he kept having all these ideas about what he wanted to do next and then he just went to the Internet and started looking at YouTube videos and learning different ways to build systems.

Pierre: Honestly, I loved, I loved it, I loved building the system, I loved seeing the plants grow. At that point I was producing food for my family and neighbors and selling some of it and teaching people how the systems worked and getting people started at their homes, on their own systems. And then I came across aquaponics. That really put a new twist on the whole thing. So here we have a three hundred gallon trough that houses the fish. From the fish tank, the water’s gravity fed into these three grow beds. From the grow beds the water drains out into series of sump tanks.

Will Allen: Well, most kids today unfortunately don’t really understand where their food really comes from in the whole food system because we are several generations now lost from folks that actually grew up on the farm and were very connected in a local way or a regional way to their food.

Pierre: From the sump tanks the water’s pumped up from a pump that I have right here into these NFT beds “nutrient film technique” is the term.

Will Allen: He’s embarking on something that is growing as we speak. Fifty percent of our fish that we eat today is farm-raised. That’s gonna go to about seventy-five percent in the next five years. So he’s getting the best of both worlds. He’s using the plants to remediate the toxins that the fish give off in their waste. So he’s getting vegetable product and a protein, fish source about a year later.

Pierre: The water’s gravity fed back into the fish tank where the water’s completely purified and the fish are able to survive in a clean environment where all the ammonia has been taken out of the system.

I figured I would convert all of the systems that I had originally built hydroponically into aquaponic systems. So I tweaked the systems a little bit, put in air pumps, basically enhancing the greenhouse aquaponically ever since.

Pierre: So I was in an Ag science class and we were doing some work in the greenhouse and I noticed that really there wasn’t anything going on in the greenhouse itself. I asked my dad, I said, “Do you think we can, you know, try and put in an aquaponic system in the greenhouse at school.” He said, “Yeah. Write up a proposal, present it to your teacher and the school council and see what they say.”

Dan Gayaldo: I had no idea what it was and what I did was I looked it up YouTube also. I went to YouTube and I said, “What is this aquaponics all about?” And I was just blown away by his enthusiasm, his drive, his determination, and I said, “This kid’s gonna get this project done.”

Pierre: Presented the project and they said, “That’s a fantastic idea. If you can raise the money we’ll allow you to put a system in the greenhouse.”

Regina Dvorak: He had to get a list of materials and costs. He had to go to the principal and ask. A lot of leg work, six months worth of nothing in the greenhouse and nervousness about whether or not he could pull this off.

Pierre: The community support was a very large portion of this project. I had to go around to local organizations and be able to raise the money. So the community was an instrumental part in the system.

Ross Kelley: When we have an AC relay operated by 110 volts, when that fails, the contacts close and start the DC-powered air pump.

Pierre: Okay.

Ross Kelley: Pierre came along with the aquaponics project of which we had, basically, no idea what it was, and he showed us how it works and we were asked to help him with that, and it’s been a great project and a good learning experience for us.

Dan Gayaldo: When Pierre started this project one of the things he had as a goal was to be able supply our cafeteria with fresh vegetables right out of this greenhouse. It was quite a process because any time you do something in a school, it’s about ten times the paperwork. We have a wonderful salad bar that’s used by hundreds and hundreds of students every single day and it’s really neat when those kids know their digging into those greens, they’re coming right off of our campus.

Pierre: So this is a small-scale aquaponic system that I designed for a classroom or a residential setting. So you’re looking at maybe seventy-five to a hundred lettuce plants every two months.

Pierre: I want to bring this system into many different schools. You know, learning opportunity that a system like this provides is immense. You’ve got water chemistry, agriculture, science, physics, mathematics, economics. A lot of these subjects could be modeled from this particular system. If I can provide a curriculum to go with this system then the knowledge of aquaponics will be proliferated throughout, hopefully, the United States.

Will Allen: What Pierre is doing is something that’s different. Something that schools aren’t used to dealing with. If you think about this, you have a student who’s come up with this creative model and now he goes to the school officials and he says, “Listen, I want to create a curriculum that I can pass on.” Schools aren’t used to hearing that kind of stuff because change in schools comes very slow.

Dan Gayaldo: One of the shortcomings of education is that we don’t do things that are application in nature. They’re all theoretical in nature and this was a project that I think fit into the culture of the community and the culture of the school. That’s education the way it should be.

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Credits
  • Producer: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Vanessa Carr
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Commissioning Producer: Zachary Fink
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

This video was co-produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television as a companion to the PBS special, Is School Enough?

Is School Enough? Video Series

Edutopia's new series profiles young people who are making their learning more authentic by taking it into their own hands, on their own time. This series is produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television, as a companion to an hour-long PBS special that is now available to watch.

More Edutopia Coverage on Garden-Based Learning

Visit the Is School Enough? series page to see more videos on informal learning.

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