We are working on a project right now in Global Studies, which is a cross-curricular course of English and World History, where students are creating an indoor aquaponics garden for our classroom.
Because of course, why wouldn't you build an indoor garden in History class?
Aquaponics is a system where you have a tank full of fish, and the water from this tank is pumped into a bed of plants. The fish excrement (poop) gives the plants an amazing source of organic fertilizer, and the plants in-turn filter out the water so it can be pumped back into the fish tank.
It's pretty remarkable.
And it creates big and plentiful vegetables that kids can take home with them and share with their families. AND we're going to have a fish fry at the end of the year!
The students are using grant money I won for them to design and build every bit of this project. They are doing all of this while we study the Agricultural Revolution (Ohhh, that's the history class part).
I did a fair amount of research on this whole process before introducing it to the class, but have kept most of that knowledge to myself. The students have taken charge of making this project happen. They split themselves up into different branches (Design, Accounting, and BioLife), and appointed Vice Presidents to oversee each branch. They've created departments within branches that focus on specific tasks. Each department is headed up by a department manager.
The VP's call meetings and ask for progress reports. They motivate students who have lost some excitement for the project, and make sure there is open communication between all of the moving parts. There's an art team who is creating a mural on the walls where the garden will be.
There is a student who is trying to broker with a pet shop the sale of the goldfish we'll raise, and use the profits to keep the garden going.
My brilliant math students are using a CAD program to design the whole garden before we build.
Accounting is figuring out how to manage $2000 while many of the departments want a nice piece of it.
It is sometimes chaotic.
And it is beautiful.
Two of my students even called and arranged a meeting at a local aquaponics greenhouse last Saturday morning.
I met them there, and watched 2 fourteen year-olds spend their weekend working on a history project that does not have a grade attached to it.
And I don't think it's just the concept of the garden that has them excited. It's the fact that they are being given the freedom to create. They have the space to fail. This isn't a hypothetical garden with Monopoly money. They are building something real that will actually work and grow lettuce.
And when I ask them to write a paper about, it's not that big of a deal. The authenticity drives the content.
So I sit here and think, in the ever changing world of education, some things never change.
Like the excitement for learning.