This is a story about passion for science, the amazing capabilities of children, and a little help from our friends.
When I interviewed for a job as a science teacher at a middle school outside of Washington D.C., the principal asked me what 'elective' course I would like to teach if I could have my choice of anything. Being a planted tanker my answer was obvious.
After I got the job I started two classes called "Aquarium Science"; one for sixth graders and one for seventh. Between 15 and 20 young aquarists in each. My students last year were very patient. They spent almost half of the year learning applicable theory: biology, chemistry, art and design, environmental science, conservation biology, etc. We were the first members of a new charter school and our budget was limited. The principal had told me that he would try to get our classes whatever we needed. I convinced him that my students and I would be able to have a very successful class while only asking the school for materials if we absolutely had to.
In November we got our first break. The kids had collaborated on Google Docs to write grant proposals to local businesses. The owner of the best LFS in Maryland, House of Tropicals, told me that he would get in touch with his suppliers and donate ten 10 gallon Aqueon tanks and ten Aquaclear 20 filters. Those tanks still have the House of Tropicals stickers that I asked for on their fronts! The school chipped in twelve Aqueon Pro 50 heaters that I'd ordered and I brought my two spare 10 G tanks and Aquaclear 30 filters. We were all set.
We didn't have much room last year. Being a public charter school entitled us to some attention from the county for things students needed, but we still had to rent our school. 300 middle schoolers crammed into an old elementary school didn't leave us a whole lot of room for tanks. I elected to get industrial-style shelves on which to put the tanks. It wasn't ideal, but everyone loved it. As you can imagine, very few of my students had experience with fish keeping; even fewer with the miniature ecosystems that are planted aquaria.
We were helped out tremendously last year. Our local PetCo has a few employees that are EXPERT fish keepers. After I'd been a few times to shop for sundries I sparked a conversation with a manager and the head of the fish department. They offered to give us any plants that were unsellable: crypts that had melted, stems that were straggly, anubias with holes in the leaves, you get the idea. Plants that were perfectly good but just needed some TLC- the perfect opportunity to teach the students the patience required in our hobby! We got a BIG bag of plants every two to three weeks. Major kudos to these employees from a chain that sometimes gets a little stereotyped by planted tank people (I was one of them).
We also experienced a great deal of kindness from members of this very forum. @Falco
, and @Oceangirl
either RAOKed us or outright donated stuff to the class. We got everything: snails (including assassins), stems, swords and crypts, ferns and mosses. Thanks everybody. I tried to leave feedback for you all, but I still feel like I missed some. If I haven't mentioned you here, please PM me so I can give you the thanks you are due!
We subbed our tanks with Black Diamond because it's cheap and effective. We used Home Depot single T8 shop lights (~18 inches above the sub). We tested with API kits and fertilized with my stash of Green Leaf ferts (my tanks are all low-tech, so a little goes a long way).
After a lengthy cycling period (interrupted by the winter break), our kids started getting fish in January/February. Most of these were either cheap fish from PetCo (platys, glowlight tetras, etc.) or extras from home (emerald eyed rasboras, beckford's pencilfish, otos).
We ended the year happy. This year, of our 450 students (we add a grade level per year) fully 150 selected Aquarium Science as their first choice of elective. Not a bad way to grow the hobby!
The next time I have a couple hours off I will continue this with the actual thread I set out to create tonight. I'll give all the details of our new school building, my new classroom, and what we're doing now. I will introduce our setup and classroom procedures, but I will let my students speak for themselves. Goodnight everyone!