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Koi Pond in the Classroom

An indoor pond in an Ohio classroom teaches middle school students about science as well as life.

By Cassandra Radcliff

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Koi

Just two students (out of many volunteers) assembled the pond. Without any prior knowledge of how to use screw guns or tape measures, the students were able to construct a sturdy 425-gallon pond in just two days. Photo credit: Paul Moore
Click image to enlarge
Koi

Whether it's for a class of eighth-graders or for your own children, you can get kids engaged in learning and caring for a pond. Photo credit: Paul Moore

Paul Moore, an eighth-grade science teacher at Batavia Middle School in Batavia, Ohio, believes that kids learn best when doing. So instead of explaining the science of a pond ecosystem to his students, Moore had his students set up a pond in the classroom. Moore began a classroom project called "Koi in the Classroom," which is designed to engage the students and to make them play the role of designers, engineers, builders and marine biologists.

The idea surfaced after Moore moved into a new house just over a year ago with his wife. A small garden pond (in dire need of fixing up) sat in the backyard. After fixing up the pond, Moore purchased a few small koi. Moore says, "The sense of achievement and the relaxing nature of [my backyard] pond was truly the driving force for this project."

While tending to his own pond, Moore thought that he could bring pondkeeping to his classroom. Moore brought the idea up to his school's principal and was given the go-ahead. He collected all of the necessary equipment from local businesses (donations), and he purchased equipment with money provided by a private donor and a grant from The Kids in Need Foundation. Paul Moore did his job in getting everything ready — and then it was the kids' turn.

Building and Maintenance
The first assignment for the students was to design a bio-filter. After Moore gave them a set of parameters (easy to clean, safe for fish and submersible), the students teamed up and competed to create the most effective filtration system for their future pond. Students also designed the look of the pond, including where the waterfall, accent stones and plants would be placed.
After the pond planning phase, Moore chose two students (out of many volunteers) to assemble the pond. Without any prior knowledge of how to use screw guns or tape measures, the students were able to construct a sturdy 425-gallon pond in just two days. Moore did the more dangerous tasks himself, including staining the materials.

Moore's students now maintain the pond, including feeding, cleaning filtration systems, changing water and testing water quality. The pond has not been without its problems, though. The waterfall leaked at first, but after rearranging some rocks, the leak was fixed. Water quality problems also affected the pond at first, but after reducing the fish load, the water is now crystal clear and has been for months. The fish will continue to grow and will increase the bioload as they do so, but as the fish grow larger, they will be donated to people in the community who are interested in the project. So far, the pond is running smoothly.

A Big Success
The pond has been a big success with students, parents and school officials. Parents are supporting the pond project, as well. During parent-teacher night, the students were excited to show the parents the pond. Parents have contributed by donating food and fish to the pond. The school board president Michael Enriquez has praised the innovative concept and boasted, "It is wonderful to see these kinds of fresh and interactive ideas and approaches in the classroom."

But the most important thing is that it has been a big hit with the students. Moore says, "The biggest contribution that the pond has given to my students is a sense of ownership." The students are proud of their pond and are invested in the health of the fish and the quality of the pond. Moore says, "Whenever the students get a chance to sit around the pond, they are all huddled around it." He believes that kids get engaged because "with a pond, the students can feel and hear the water splash from the fountain. They can touch the water, plant the foliage and see the fish from a whole new dimension."

Not only have Moore's students learned how to be engineers, builders, marine biologists and more, but they've also learned about responsibility. One student, Taylor, said, "I really like the pond. It teaches us responsibility but doesn't seem like work at all." Moore believes that the students have learned important life skills from their classroom pond.

You Can Do it, Too
Whether it's for a class of eighth-graders or for your own children, you can get kids engaged in learning and caring for a pond (and many other things using these same techniques). Moore says that the number one thing is to get the kids involved. "Put the shovel ... in the kids' hands. Let the kids pick the fish. Teach the kids how to maintain the pond. Do whatever you can to let the kids know that they own the pond. As a teacher, I would suggest to think out of the box by teaching by doing — not teaching by talking."

Classroom Pond Stats
- 25-gallon stock tank lined with a Firestone liner
-The exterior is made with landscape timbers and paver stones
- A seat rail allows students to sit on the edge and interact with the fish
- Plants include waterlilies (not pictured) and umbrella palm
- Four koi
- Five goldfish
- The largest fish is more than 1 foot long
- The smallest fish is 2 inches
- 160 8th-graders interact with the pond in some way each day

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