Application 1: Designing, constructing, and reengineering a system


Using mathematics and computational analysis, students design aquaponic systems to be part of the solution to food insecurity in a developing country. In this NGSS STEM activity and optional lab, students can either use real data collected from an aquaponic system at Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) or data from their own aquaponic system to calculate water efficiency and the effects of scaling up a system. With or without the lab, students will explore what it takes to grow food by maintaining a stable system that mimics the resiliency of natural ecosystems.


Please use this link to access the most up-to-date version of our Food Security Curriculum Module (last updated 04/16/2019) which is currently being field-tested. This activity/lab is in development (as of 12/7/17) and is not included in the FS Curriculum Module document link above. Instead, it is included as a working Google Doc link here APPLICATION 1_Designing, constructing and reengineering a system (final draft) If you would like to field test these lessons, please email us at

This lesson follows the FS Pre/post-assessment, Lesson FS1 , and Lesson FS2. Please consider sending electronic versions of any student work to


For your convenience, the following are quick links to resources required for the FS activity/lab. Links to these resources can also be found in the APPLICATION 1_Designing, constructing and reengineering a system (final draft) documents.




Resources: crowd-source funding,teacher feedback, and how to choose the right system for you

Build cost ($-$$$)/ classroom build time
$ / <1-hour $ / <2-hour $$$ / <5-hour $$ /<1-hour
Option # 1 2 3 4
*System Designs Hydroponics Mini-Challenge Large scale systems
2’ x 4’  OR 4’ x 4’: Projectfeed1010
Prefabricated systems:  

Back to the Roots or


Description Simple, space/time saving, invent your own systems. Uses recycled micropipette tip boxes. For classes of 22-35 students in teams of 2-4 or individually. Bench or countertop systems with simulated or real fish. Student-built and operated for 22-35 students in teams of 2-4. Gives a real sense of water use to produce a vegetable crop Student example.  High level of individual engineering. Class design and modify. Small group of students help build. Best for small classes or clubs. Rotate teams to collect daily/weekly data and make observations.   Online purchase demonstration models––easy set up on a countertop. Best for small classes. Rotate 2-3 students to collect data and make observations.
*In each case, students measure plant growth, nitrite, nitrate, dissolved oxygen, pH, and ammonia levels in their systems and record data on ISB’s online data management hub ( The student-designed systems will vary in productivity. No matter which option is used, the process will help students learn as they collect water chemistry, water use, and plant growth data over 4-5 weeks (or longer if desired).

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