Homework is Failing: How To Inspire Students Through Experimental Learning

In 2016, I will be attending my 10 year high school reunion. I keep thinking to myself, “where did the time go?”

Looking back on my high schooldays I stop and often wonder how I got to where I am today.  If you told me I would be an owner of a company, I would say, “You’re damn right I am!” (I feel like being an entrepreneur is my destiny).  But, if you told me that I would be an owner in an aquaponics company… like most people I probably would’ve said, “What is aquaponics?”

Full disclosure: in high school I was not 100% focused on my academics.  I played sports and also liked to socialize and maybe also take 20-30 minute bathroom breaks during class. Hanging out with friends, meeting new people, and experiencing life was more important and easier than classes. As many do, I thought these were the glory days and that it was all fun and games.

*Insert Dazed and Confused montage but based in the 2000’s*

I bring this all up because I am now an owner of a company that focuses heavily on STEM education. So now all the knowledge from high school has suddenly jumped to the forefront. I had to relearn everything from basic biology to chemistry when I began growing as a hobby with aquaponics. My interest in growing my own sustainable food led to me consuming tons of content around the nitrogen cycle. In aquaponics, ammonia waste from the fish converts into nitrite through the cycle, then to nitrate. Nitrate is the vital nutrient for plant growth and overall health.

It wasn’t until I was hands deep in fish poop and expanded shale that I actually had a reason to relearn all these topics.  In high school, if I couldn’t see how it related to my future then it was very hard for me to get excited and motivated to actually do the work. Aquaponics gave me that excitement. So through that motivation learning these subjects again was fun and easy. It actually didn’t feel like homework!

Over the past year and a half Trifecta has been conducting customer discovery around students and teachers.  What we have found from the students perspective is that they want something they can work with their hands. They seek active learning activities in the classroom.  It also needs to be something that they can relate to (everyone can relate to eating food!) and they need to see how it can impact their future.  From the teacher’s perspective, they want an easy and foolproof activity/project. They want to keep their students focused, while also cultivating their curiosity and critical thinking skills.  

As was for myself and many others in the aquaponics field, our hobby of growing led us to become enamored with STEM fields. We all need to learn biology, chemistry, engineering, math, and many subjects to be successful as professionals in this industry.  

This also brings me to another “discovery” that we have come across with teachers and students.  

That discovery……..Students don’t like homework and sometimes see it as a burden or something they have to do so they don’t get in trouble.  On the flip side, teachers want their students learning outside the classroom and the homework they send home is their attempt to get them to continue learning.  

The way we approach it comes from both that discovery and personal experience. We all crave experimental learning.

I was definitely a student who would participate all day in class. Yet, when it came to do homework I wouldn’t find it interesting because it didn’t relate to me and what I wanted to do with my life.

That changed when I was introduced to aquaponics. I wanted to eat healthier and be more connected with my food. So I would spend hours digesting all I could about the subject. I was going down rabbit holes which led to other topics and interesting new knowledge. Then when I connected it to potentially starting a business, the hours got longer and my journey to find knowledge only lengthened.  

We use aquaponics in the classroom to inspire students into finding connections to their own lives and futures so they can tap into that passion to become more enthusiastic learners.  

experimental learning with an aquaponics system
In class learning on an aquaponics system

The world’s population is only getting larger and by 2030 being an aquaponic farmer could be the job that you are getting ready for.

Food production is going to need a lot of innovation. We already need to supply the 7+ billion people that are piloting this spaceship we call earth. Aquaponics is in need of even more innovation to make it the primary way people grow their food. To make that happen we also need to inspire people to take on that challenge. Experimental learning programs will prepare our students to meet these challenges head on.

Looking back on my high school years I cannot say I would do it differently; I am the person I am today because of it.  But I have to think, “If I was introduced to aquaponics and more experiential learning in high school would I be further along in creating innovations?”.  

Right now Trifecta Ecosystems is using aquaponics in schools across Connecticut to engage students in the food ecosystem, while also showing them real world applications of STEM concepts.  Being able to show these students how ecosystems function  down to the microorganism by relating it to a tangible tool solidifies it in their mind and allows them to recall this knowledge better.  

Inspiring more kids to learn will benefit all of us.

This is why we want to hear more from you, the students; the parents; the teachers; and the administrators, about your thoughts on experiential learning and if you think aquaponics would inspire you to go down the rabbit hole of STEM.  

Our goal is to spark the curiosity of people and harness it into a passion for learning.

“Human curiosity, the urge to know, is a powerful force and is perhaps the best secret weapon of all in the struggle to unravel the workings of the natural world.”  -Aaron Klug-


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