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Sweet Water Aquapons (AQUAPONS)

Sweet Water Aquapons (AQUAPONS)


depiction of miniature aquaponics system with text: "Aquaponics is the symbiotic cultivation of fish, bacteria, and plants in a closed loop water system"


The Sweet Water Aquapons program (AQUAPONS), will utilize a badge-based learning system to support the next generation of innovators in the field of aquaponics, an innovative sustainable farming technique.  The program will be administered by Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), an organization that offers educational programs in the field of urban agriculture, for the purpose of building resilient, food secure, urban communities.  AQUAPONS will build upon SWF’s development of a comprehensive set of “Kindergarten to Career” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning opportunities in partnership with K-12 educators and post-secondary learning institutions.  Such learning opportunities are being developed through the Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI).





Curricular Focus

MTEC and SWF logos and text "Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI).  Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (MTEC) and its project partners--Sweet Water Foundation, Sweet Water Organics, and Kennedy-King College--have received funding from the US Department of Agriculture to conduct a teacher training and educational pilot program to support students' entry into food science-related careers.  Through the Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI), we will develop an "Aquaponics Learning Framework" to increase high school teacher instructional competencies in STEM disciplines using school-based mini-aquaponics systems.  The Framework will be piloted through the training of 6 aquaponics instructional coaches and teachers from a variety of content areas in 5 schools, who will design and deliver aquaponics-based lessons to a group of 15 to 30 high school students in Milwaukee and Chicago during the 2011-2012 year.

Since its inception in December 2009, SWF has been developing and implementing innovative hands-on educational programming in the realm of urban agriculture.  A key focus of this programming is education around the topic of aquaponics, the symbiotic cultivation of plants and fish in a re-circulating water system.  Aquaponics is a promising, sustainable food production technology for urban communities.  For K-12 education, aquaponics is a dynamic interactive teaching tool that integrates environmental science, biology, chemistry, agriculture, mathematics, engineering, economics, and other disciplines. 

SWF has helped install over fifteen miniature aquaponics systems within schools in Milwaukee and Chicago since 2010.  This number will continue to increase as aquaponics continues to gain traction as a valuable teaching tool.  Aquaponics can illuminate and reinforce core curriculum in schools, as well as be taught as a standalone subject. Currently, thorough MAEDI SWF is designing curriculum units around aquaponics. 

AQUAPONS is a training and assessment program to ensure that teachers and students are aware of the complex interactions between physical and biological components in aquaponics systems.  Teachers and students who are responsible for building and maintaining aquaponics systems must know how to manage and manipulate the system so that it is healthy and well-balanced.

The AQUAPONS training is flexible in form, so that it can implemented at any site, as long as there is access to a functional aquaponics system. Trained SWF staff, coaches, or teachers will implement the AQUAPONS training.  The target audience for the AQUAPONS program are K-12 teachers and students, who are learning aquaponics as an integrated aspect of their school’s curriculum.


Earning a Badge                              

children interacting with a miniature aquaponics systemThe AQUAPONS training program integrates content-based instruction with practical, hands-on training.  Participants learn the information behind aquaponics as well as how to build and maintain such systems.  There are a number of different badges that will be awarded through AQUAPONS:

1) Concepts of Aquaponics

2) Growing Styles

3) Bacteria

4) Plants

5) Fish

6) Water Chemistry

7) Habitat Maintenance

8) Design and Construction

9) Presentation of Learning

digital sketch of a miniature aquaponics system, with the 9 badge areas definited in the narrative - along with bullet points from each of the badge areas.

Furthermore, there will be four different levels of each badge.:

Badge Level 1) Advanced Beginner

Badge Level 2) Competent Performer

Badge Level 3) Proficient Performer

Badge Level 4) Expert

Someone who earns Fish Badge Level 1 will demonstrate a beginner’s knowledge of fish, whereas Fish Badge Level 4 indicates a mastery of content knowledge as well as effortless proficiency and creativity in caring for fish.

Participants who earn badges will increase their capacity to serve as “AQUAPON Associates,” who hold increasing responsibilities in maintaining, and eventually, designing and building aquaponics systems.  As the students and teachers continue to earn badges, they will gain access to volunteer and work opportunities at the Sweet Water physical site, including serving as a tour guide, educational aide, or farm assistant.

The badges for each curricular area will be earned through written assessments, photo and video projects, and in-person demonstrations of proficiency.


Digital Enhancement of AQUAPONS

children posing with freshly picked vegetables

The AQUAPONS training program would be significantly enhanced by a digital media component.  SWF and MTEC currently utilize Moodle as a tool for online dialog and for document and data sharing.  Possibilities for digital enhancement include more interactive online tools that allow AQUAPONS participants in various locations to share information and communicate freely with one another.

There is also great possibility for an interactive virtual simulation of an aquaponics system. Participants would be able to adjust variables within the system in order to test hypotheses without harming live organisms in the process. The simulation could also provide relevant “mini-lessons,” puzzle activities and interactions with other learners and could serve participants without direct access to an aquaponics system.



True to the nature of urban agriculture and aquaponics, AQUAPONS will be a dynamic and interdisciplinary program, bringing together a variety of partners for mutual benefit. 

Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (MTEC)

MTEC is SWF’s principal partner in K-12 education, and the lead agency behind the Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI).   MTEC provides expert educational coaches – mostly retired teachers, to help teachers with curriculum development and delivery.

Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and Alverno College

MSOE and Alverno College represent SWF’s strong connection to Milwaukee’s higher education community.  MSOE will provide a team of student mentors to help with structural and functional elements of aquaponics at the K-12 level.  Alverno College will provide an interdisciplinary team of “Data Viz” interns, who will help to gather data from aquaponics systems and translate it into visual representation for the student audience.   These mentors and interns will work as liaisons between their professors, SWF staff members, and K-12 students and teachers.  This intergenerational collaboration will serve as a critical bridge between students and STEM learning opportunities that will form a “Kindergarten to Career” Pipeline, increasing students’ access to jobs in the field of food sciences as well as other STEM-related occupations.

Sweet Water Organics (SWO) 

SWF operates within the same re-purposed factory building as the SWO urban farm.  SWO’s industrial application of aquaponics provides AQUAPONS participants a real-life example of a community-based food production facility.

Aquaponics Association

SWF is a member of the recently formed Aquaponics Association, which provides best practices and guidance for practitioners of aquaponics around the world.

Snowfall Creative

Operating out of SWO/ SWF’s facilities, Snowfall Creative is a digital media group that will manage AQUAPONS branding materials, providing design for the badges.



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