Project STREAAM is a cross-curricular experience that includes learning associated with agriculture and the environment, plants and animals for food, fiber, and energy, Science Technology Engineering and Math, as well as Culture, Society, Economy, and Geography. The project is led by Mr. Jeremy Winsor of Fulton Schools. Mr. Winsor has high-level engagement with the state of Michigan’s “Salmon in the Classroom” (SIC) program and as such has had a substantial amount of project STREAAM adopted by that program. Current adoption work is geared around incorporating lessons in aquaponics into the state SIC curricular materials using salmon tanks to grow lettuce or kale. The affectionate STREAAM acronym relates to the various lessons in science, technology, recreation, engineering, agriculture, art, and math that students engage in. Michigan is home to over 26,000 inland lakes that are one acre in size or larger, 120 major river systems in 86 different watersheds stretching over 36,000 square miles and 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Freshwater is our makeup and as such has a substantial impact on our daily lives. Project STREAAM helps students explore the influence of our freshwater ecosystems on humans and the impacts that we have on those systems. Students explore aquaculture using a variety of species of fish throughout their middle school and high school general education curriculum. Furthermore, students make discoveries about nutrients in freshwater systems, human influence, systems science, and plant propagation using aquaculture.
Starting in 8th grade, students raise Chinook and Coho Salmon and stock them into a local tributary, Fish Creek. Mr. Winsor’s students are one of two classes in the state raising Coho Salmon. Students are currently completing a feasibility report on Coho. As the population of baitfish in the Great Lakes changes, the SIC program may need to adjust the species of fish raised. Fulton students are at the forefront of discovery pertaining to the ease of raising Coho Salmon as compared to Chinook Salmon.
Fish Creek is a tributary to Michigan’s longest river system the Grand River. There are a substantial number of cross-curricular lessons throughout the school year culminating in a cumulative lab report relating all of the learning. The salmon release gives students the opportunity to collaborate with local community members and professionals from our state Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, as well as the Michigan Sea Grant. These connections have led to opportunities for students to further explore careers in soil management, agriculture, wildlife management, population ecology, game management, natural resources, as well as a host of other professions.
At the beginning of the school year, students have opportunities to learn about the requirements for life and the life cycle of our model organism. Each lesson is developed with the philosophy that students must explore natural phenomena using an activity prior to being instructed. The activity is referred back to as a scientific concept is discussed. Students develop their understanding of the concepts assigning their own student language and understandings. As understanding develops, Mr. Winsor can guide students to the appropriate vocabulary and build appropriate scientific understandings. Students set up six different tanks with filtration and chilling units and exploration begins. The tanks will be home to our tenant salmon until they are evicted in May. Also at this time students discover the internal and external anatomy of fish through a dissection exploration.
Students become familiar with the nitrogen cycle and how it plays out in our systems as well as the interrelatedness of the parts of the cycle. Water quality testing occurs at this time. Students collect data on water quality parameters including ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, carbonate hardness, general hardness, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. All water quality data is recorded and graphed throughout the school year. We collect eggs from a state hatchery in early November and students spend the remainder of the school year observing the various stages of the salmon life cycle.
This year we had the privilege of working with Dr. Howard Tanner who is known as the “Father of Salmon in the Great Lakes.” We learned about the transformation of the Great Lakes economy from a commercial fishery to a recreational one creating ample opportunities for businessmen and fishermen alike. We created a timeline that related the effects of human impacts on the environment, invasive species introduction, population effects and salmon introduction by Dr. Tanner in 1966. This lesson helped students understand the cause and effects associated with human influence in our Great Lakes ecosystems. By the end of November, our eggs have hatched and the alevin portion of the life cycle has begun. Much like our salmon, Mr. Winsor’s students are also growing.
In December, students use their engineering and design skills to create a custom-built fishing pole. All of the components to the poles are purchased so that each student can create a lasting piece of functional art to take home. This portion of the project is often frustration heavy. Students struggle with dexterity to the detail that is needed for creating a quality fishing pole. After lots of frustration and persistence students are able to develop their resilience and complete their fishing pole prior to the Christmas break. Also starting in December mortality data on our fish is collected. Any eggs or fish that die are removed from the tank as to not affect our water quality. Those organisms are documented and a running tally is recorded over the remainder of the year. Some years we have higher mortality rates than others. Even with varying mortality rates from year to year, we gain valuable understandings in a host of topics.
In January, our salmon have experienced a number of changes. They have absorbed their yolk sac and have entered the fry stage of their life cycle. Students make observations regarding the changes that they observe in their fish. Often times the distinguishing characteristic of this stage of life are the parr marks along their flanks and top. This leads to a connection between species of organisms blending into their environment to evade predators and also sneak up on prey. Numerous lessons related to predator and prey relationships, genetics, diversity, and habitat occur during this portion of our project. We continue to use our salmon as a model organism to understand the natural world and the relationships that play out in it. Also at this time, our fish will start to “swim up.” “Swimming up” is an indicator that our fry are ready to feed. Feeding begins and we collect data on the mass of feed we give our fish along with growth rates. Students explore the relationships between the density of fish in our various tanks and growth rates as well as feed rates and fish length.
By mid-March, the ice on Fish Creek has melted away freeing Mr. Winsor to collect samples of macroinvertebrates for student discovery. We discuss the requirements for life of the various groups of macroinvertebrates and further make discoveries about human influence on water bodies. Students become “experts” on one particular species of macroinvertebrate. They explore its life cycle, classification, relative abundance, habitat and distinguishing characteristics. With this information, students create a poster using their skills in art and design. When the poster is complete students then go to work learning how to tie an imitation fly for fishing. They use a wide variety of equipment and their creativity to tie a fly with the intention of mimicking a portion of the life cycle of their macroinvertebrate. Finally, students identify the relative abundance of macroinvertebrates in a random sample and compare that sample population to known tributaries with various human or natural influences. Students quickly discover that the tributary flowing through our agricultural community is pristine. It is home to many macroinvertebrates that will not tolerate low oxygen levels or high amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen. This allows us to discuss the natural and agricultural practices related to the observations we are making.
April brings a large amount of excitement. Our salmon are voracious in their appetites and growing quickly. Some fish will start to change slightly by the end of the month taking on a more sheen appearance as they lose their parr marks. All of this is leading up to our “Salmon Release Day and Labs.” For the release day, our students become “citizen scientists.” We partner with professionals from various organizations for this day of discovery and data collection. It truly is a celebration of the work done throughout the year. Students release our fish at the beginning of the day and document the length of each fish released. This data is later used to create box-and-whisker plots in our formal lab report. Our professional volunteers electroshock a section of the stream and collect the various fish found in the waterway. Those samples are placed in pools for exploration. Guided by professional fisheries biologists, students identify, sort, measure and count every sampled fish before returning them to the waterway. The data is recorded and later analyzed. Students build population graphs and more box-and-whisker plots of the community of fish in the tributary. The same thing plays out with the local macroinvertebrate community as students identify and count the various species present to gain an understanding of how they can be used as indicators of water quality. Additional data is gathered on stream flow rates, water quality and the various plant species found along the stream. Students also have opportunities to use their custom-built fishing poles later in the day and experience some fishing. A “pick an invasive - plant a native” activity is often a hallmark as students learn to identify wild mustard for removal and plant various species of native grasses. Finally, we participate in a river clean up. Often, numerous garbage bags of trash are removed by our students prior to loading the school bus and returning home.
The work isn’t over, though I suspect that many students wish it was at this point. Upon returning to the school students complete a formal lab report where they must analyze all of the data that they collected during the release day. They build box-and-whisker plots, charts, and graphs that are used to draw conclusions about the natural environment on our release day. All of the information gained is shared with the community on our school webpage, via social media, and through a formal presentation to our school board. At the conclusion of the lab report, students use their new information for an argumentative essay in Language Arts class. That essay has students using evidence to support or refute the claim that our salmon will have the potential to carry out their life cycle and return to our stream to reproduce.
It became apparent a number of years ago that our community had a desire for additional learning opportunities with agriculture. With that in mind, Mr. Winsor built upon the learning of Project STREAAM and blended it into high school courses. At that time Mr. Winsor went to work on a campaign to build a greenhouse for student use. He successfully wrote a grant for the purchase of a hoop house totaling approximately nine-thousand dollars, however, Mr. Winsor had bigger aspirations. With the initial grant as a platform for raising additional revenue, he sent out over two hundred letters to local businesses and individuals asking for financial support to construct a steel polycarbonate sided building. The community rose to the occasion and Mr. Winsor was able to raise an additional thirty thousand dollars through charitable donations and other grants. With approximately thirty-nine thousand dollars the greenhouse was able to be purchased. Fulton Schools supplied the funds needed for the foundation, electrical, water, and drains. The thirty by sixty greenhouse was coming close to a reality, but one more obstacle existed, the construction. Running out of financial resources, it became apparent that community assistance for the construction of the building was needed. During the next two months Mr. Winsor, his brother, and two other individuals volunteered time outside of the regular workday to build the facility. Students even got in on the construction by bolting together all of the metal trusses for the building.
High School Earth Science students currently engineer and build their own working aquaponics, hydroponics or aeroponics systems in the greenhouse. Students complete a research portion of the project before deciding on the type of system they would like to build. They must design and construct an operational system and solve problems along the way. Students complete a blog that outlines the process and changes that they observe on a weekly basis. The blog has been a valuable resource for building understanding and increasing awareness of this great learning tool for high school students. We have collaborated with schools all across the country as they too integrate aquaponics into their curriculum. We have had ample opportunities at failure but with each negative experience, we learn.
A few of our large aquaponics systems are being used currently to supply romaine lettuce to the school cafeteria. Students have opportunities to experiment with various species of fish in their system as well as the species of plants that they choose to raise. They discover there are limiting factors to production such as light availability and temperature. Macro and micronutrient plant needs are constantly monitored. Often times students have to diagnose and remedy the nutrient deficiencies in their plants. We use the systems to apply our knowledge of biogeochemical cycles as it relates to the cycling of matter and energy on our planet. They discover that natural resources are not distributed evenly around the globe so engineering solutions may be required to supply the needed resources to different portions of the planet. We explore the use of technology to monitor water quality in the systems by using Arduino computer boards that collect real-time data. Students program the boards to collect data on things like photosynthetic rate, temperature and conductivity. This opportunity allows students to delve into the world of computer programming and helps them to see how simple data collection can benefit diagnosing problems.
At the culmination of Earth Science students complete a town hall-style performance assessment presentation. The presentation puts the student’s in various roles as they identify the cause of a hypothetical scenario from our local lake. The scenario plays out with an algae bloom that appears to be creating a fish die-off. Students must maneuver a complex assortment of data to identify the causes and engineer potential solutions to the problem. They present their findings and solution to their peers. Various volunteers perform as the local farmer, golf course manager, lake association president, drain commissioner or other community professionals. These individuals help guide student understanding of the complexities associated with managing human influence on the local environment.
Finally, Project STREAAM is used in high school biology to link learning with concepts like population growth and decline, population interactions, genetics, adaptation, growth, development, and reproduction. Discoveries made using our aquaponics system can be discussed as examples for complex topics in the biological sciences. At times students don't have specific examples to apply to new learning. With our aquaponics work, we are able to identify concrete examples that reinforce our learning. This project has become a “cultural” event for students in Mr. Winsor’s classes and a staple of learning in our district.