Ridgeland High School and Rossville Middle School split the funds for a variety of projects that incorporate key STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) areas.
A significant portion of the grant provided long overdue network infrastructure upgrades for Ridgeland High School. The money also purchased upgrades for an existing greenhouse converted to an aquaponics learning environment, as well as video production equipment and robotics labs.
“This is what we dreamed it would be…for the integration of our current technical classes and the math and science departments,” said assistant principal Sharon Weitz, who wrote the grant application.
Students at Ridgeland focus on growing plants and breeding fish in the school’s two greenhouses — one repurposed after a decade’s use, the other built last summer.
Agriculture mechanics instructor Peter Davis has overseen the newly built greenhouse from its beginning.
Expensive equipment like testing probes and analysis meters began arriving at the end of last school year for the seven fish tanks now home to 140 channel fish and 2,500 tilapia, Davis said, one of which is a female breeding tank so the project will not have to continue to purchase fish.
High school math classes completed extensive analytical tracking and problem solving for the project.
“We want to teach the kids about scientific research and hands-on projects by taking the math and science that they have already learned and putting it into practice through the labs that they have done,” he said. “The kids have been able to build this entire thing from scratch, and they have done a great job at it.”
Students run tests to monitor chemical levels in the tanks.
“Recently, we found out that in one tank the feed level was not correct because the fish were not growing at the same rate,” senior Victoria Capehart said. “If they were to start reproducing, they would quickly die off.”
Grown for the annual spring plant sale, dozens of ferns hang above the fish tanks to prevent algae and filter sunlight.
Engineering students at the school are also involved in the project, designing autonomous robots to analyze tank water quality overnight while students are away. The engineering students split into four teams, and each designed a robot.
Teacher Josh Hurst said they spent about $5,000 designing each robot. After radio-controlled testing to discern the best design, the robots will run independently along a hanging track system. The program software and track system are yet to be designed by students.
Counter balancing the probes and making sure the robots would not fall in the water added to the engineering challenge.
“Our plan is to make it as green as possible. We will add solar power to the project by the end of the semester,” Hurst said.
His other students in video production are also involved in the aquaponics curriculum, conducting interviews and documenting the process.
“It’s been thrilling to be able to work together with the different content areas,” said Sandy Weathers, advanced placement environmental science instructor.
Rossville Middle School managed extensive technology upgrades with their half of the grant.
Purchasing nearly $70,000 of Apple computer products including desktops for a science lab and two mobile carts (one filled with laptops, the other Ipads) to be used in any classroom.
John McDonald, ’s technology class received 15 Lego-robotics kits (totaling $10,000) which students assemble and operate after creating computer code.
Middle school students are learning the foundation of engineering principals and problem-solving skills, which will be enhanced further in high school.
The hands-on class has led to a competitive student club in the First Lego League, a visionary project by Segway inventor Dean Kaman.
Students learn programming with GameSalad using programming skills to create technology apps.
The grant also provided eight “smart board” for classrooms, TI-84 calculators for math classes, a large plotting printer and flip cameras for student podcasting projects.
McDonald’s class visited the high school during the unveiling of the aquaponics project.
“They were very impressed and seem very excited,” McDonald said, encouraged by his students eagerness to partake in the high school project.
“I would like to be in this (aquaponics) class when I get here,” eighth-grader Angela Willbanks said as she toured the school with classmates.
Senior Tyler Mooneyham is among the most enthusiastic students in the program, his personal curiosity has led to a self guided project developing his own small scale hydroponics system made of flower pots and plastic pipe for about $50.
“It is something kids could have fun with at home,” Mooneyham said.
The plans for next year are to grow crawfish and shrimp within the tanks.
Further plans include club involvement by the FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), once the fish are being sold, accounting for the expenditures and sales.
The future addition of a hydroponically grown vegetables (lettuce and tomatoes) will eventually result in students growing some of the food served in their own cafeteria.
Teachers are anticipating some of the products being ready by May, with even more available by the time students return to school next year continuing the elaborate project.