Innovative Curriculum Grows STEM Learning and Encourages

    Norristown Middle Schoolers to Solve the Problems of the Future



    Riverbend Environmental Education Center

    1950 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne, PA  19035




     October 20, 2015 -- The aquaponics greenhouse at Riverbend Environmental Education Center is no ordinary greenhouse. Energetic tilapia clamor to the surface of a 300-gallon fish tank and fragrant basil floats atop aquatic grow beds. Aquaponics is a method of sustainable agriculture in which edible plants grow from nutrient-rich wastewater provided by edible fish. The plants in turn function as bio-filters, releasing freshly cleansed water back to the fish.


    The thriving greenhouse life is certainly interesting, but it’s the young minds at work and the growth of science education that make this greenhouse really fascinating. On any given day, you can see twenty curious school students firing questions at Riverbend’s aquaponics educator: “What happens to the plants when they don’t have the fish?”  “How do the nutrients get into the water?” “Why did you choose those plants to grow? It all fits with the Riverbend mission to teach children about nature, stimulate science learning, and start young minds thinking about outside-the-box solutions for building a sustainable future.  


    Executive Director Laurie Bachman says, “Riverbend is thrilled to partner with PECO and the Norristown Area School District to launch an innovative, peer-reviewed aquaponics curriculum and education program aimed at fostering STEM (Science Technology Math Engineering) learning.”  The program is being delivered this fall to approximately 500 7th graders at all three middle schools. It builds on an already-successful partnership with Norristown Area School District begun in 2006 in which nearly 12,000 Norristown elementary school students have participated in hands-on science and environmental education provided by Riverbend. “We are deeply appreciative of the generous funding from PECO that makes this project possible. PECO has been a strong partner in our effort to expand environmental education to children in underserved communities in our region.” 


    With a principal focus on STEM education, PECO supports programs that encourage students from all backgrounds to stay in school, develop their talents and continue their education beyond high school. PECO has provided $1.25 million to the PECO Energizing Education Program, a project-based energy education program for elementary and middle schools in the Greater Philadelphia region.


    While most of the aquaponics education program takes place in the district’s 7th grade classrooms, field trips to Riverbend bring aquaponics learning to life. The program utilizes nine 20-gallon fish tanks and incorporates professional development for science and gifted teachers along with in-school lessons taught by Riverbend educators. A culminating project calls for students to create a plan for sustainable agriculture in their own neighborhoods.


    “Aquaponics is the perfect tool for engaging inquiry into a wider range of science environmental topics,” says Superintendent Dr. Janet Samuels, who led the launch of this program in NASD. “Not only does this new and dynamic resource address PA Academic Standards, it encourages the critical thinking needed to solve the problems of the future.”


    “When we expand our view globally, we see bigger problems of food and water scarcity,” adds Riverbend’s Laurie Bachman. “It’s exciting to note that Aquaponics uses only 10% of the water required by traditional agriculture. As an environmental education center with a strong track record, we believe Riverbend is uniquely positioned to deliver the models, curriculum, and teacher training needed to drive the critical thinking, investigation, and inspiration needed to solve problems. It is our hope that this innovative education program will benefit many more students in the Greater Philadelphia region. For questions about Riverbend’s Aquaponics Education Program, contact Laurie at lbachman@riverbendeec.org or 610-527-5234 x 109.



    ABOUT RIVERBEND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTER - Riverbend Environmental Education Center is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization located in 1950 Spring Mill Road Gladwyne, PA. Our preserve is located on 30 acres, open 7 days a week for visitors. Riverbend offers a full menu of environmental education programs including school curriculum, teacher training, school field trips, exploration camp, public programs, weekly nature classes and special events.