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Oblock students get first-hand experience with aquaponics

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
O'Block Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics.  Steele explains the process to Abby Winesburgh, Samantha Friday and Charles Beyer.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
O'Block Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics. Steele explains the process to Abby Winesburgh, Samantha Friday and Charles Beyer.
Oblock Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics. Samantha Friday and Abby Winesburgh are checking the oxygen levels in the plant pond.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
Oblock Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics. Samantha Friday and Abby Winesburgh are checking the oxygen levels in the plant pond.


O'Block Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics.  Samanthan Friday and Abby Winesburgh check the temperature of the water in the fish tanks.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
O'Block Junior High School students in Jason Steele's class are learning about Aquaponics. Samanthan Friday and Abby Winesburgh check the temperature of the water in the fish tanks.

Oblock Junior High School teacher Jason Steele wanted to give his students hands-on experience.

When he discovered 4th River Aquaponics in the Strip District and found out about a grant possibility for the concept, he decided to explore creating an aquaponics lab at Oblock as part of his technical education curriculum.

Aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) that grows fish and plants together in one system, Steele said.

The fish waste provides a food source for the plants, and the plants provide a natural filter for the water in which the fish live.

“It's a cycle,” said Steele who, incorporated the program as part of the technical education curriculum in which students also have instruction in robotics, computer graphics and animation and advanced game maker.

The grant opportunity didn't work out, but Steele was able to create an aquaponics garden in a supply closet in his classroom.

Sam Norris, owner of 4th River Aquaponics, at the beginning of the school year donated about $10,000 in equipment including an aquaponic system, lights, aluminum ballast, water quality test kit and pumps.

Students in Steele's class have been working throughout the first part of the school year in the aquaponics lab.

Steele said the students perform duties including growing the plants from seeds, measuring the pH levels in the water, maintaining the temperature of the water in which the bluegill fish are living, feeding the fish and measuring the oxygen levels in the water.

Steele said the students learn a variety of disciplines through the work they perform.

“This lab screams STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) because of the process,” Steele said.

Students in the art club also have an opportunity to participate in the lab.

Some students are creating a mural that will hang in the room.

“The goal is to have this like the Children's Museum (of Pittsburgh),” Steel said.

Abby Winesburgh, 13, an eighth-grade student, enjoys working in the lab.

“It's pretty neat,” Winesburgh said. “I like connecting with the fish.”

Winesburgh, who aspires to be a teacher, plans to have fish in her classroom in the future.

Samantha Friday, 13, an eighth-grader, wants to be a crime scene investigator, and enjoys doing the calculations and feeding the fish.

Steele said the students have selected their favorite fish and given some of them names, including “Big Doug,” the king of the fish tank.

“It is a real learning experience,” Steele said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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