Biology teachers adding ioponic systems to classes

The biology department has recently received an Ioponics system from Dr. Michael Bechtel as part of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Scale Up Program. 

Bechtel is a professor at Wartburg College in Waverly and began the ioponics program in 2015. This system is a combination of hydroponics (raising fish) and aquaculture (growing plants without soil), creating a never-ending environmental loop.

While most people assume that plants need dirt to grow, Jason Lang, a biology teacher, explains why this is false. “In short, the root systems of the plants are going to use the nutrients in the waste of fish to continue to grow. Right now we need to feed the fish, but in a small system with the right type of fish they could theoretically feed on the roots in the water and it could become its own self-sustaining system.  We are so used to plants needing soil to grow, but they don’t as long as the water the root systems are growing in has oxygen and the right nutrients.”

In addition to receiving this aquaponics loop, they were also awarded lesson plans for the system, technical support and four hours of professional development time with a $120 stipend. All of this allows students the hands-on opportunity to engage with living organisms in the classroom and more accurately understand biological systems. 

According to Lang, ioponcs systems are, “becoming more and more popular for in-home use.” With its self-sustaining abilities, many believe that ioponics is the future. It’s cheaper than most modern agriculture and emits little-to-no waste by taking advantage of materials that people don’t usually use. 

His current goal with the ioponics tank is “to raise lettuce to eat for lunch on a daily basis,” he said. “Right now I have four heads of romaine that should be on my plate in the next week or so.” 

Debbie Paulsen, another biology teacher,  also has “selected a number of edible plants into mine – beans, lettuce, basil, thyme, mint, oregano.” 

She said she is ecstatic about this new learning opportunity for students. “My plan is to incorporate this into our view of biology as a system. With the Ioponics system, both components are dependent upon the other, just as components in any biological system,” she said.

Lang has a similar view. “Any time we can have life in the biology classroom and think about how to maintain it, I think that’s a good thing. I also want students to think about what things they would like to grow and experiment within the hydroponics system. I don’t have all the answers, so we can all learn together.”

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