ALEARN resources provide more opportunities for teachers and students to experience aquaculture in the classroom.
As needs in the classroom continue to grow and evolve, educators are looking for ways to provide applicable coursework to help students make educated decisions about their futures.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, in partnership with Auburn University, is providing a resource for educators to incorporate aquaculture in the classroom.
ALEARN, short for ALabama Education in aquatic sciences, Aquaculture, Recreational fishing and Natural resources, is a website developed for teachers by Extension and industry professionals. ALEARN’s mission is to provide useful, timely and interesting information about these topics.
Dr. David Cline, an Extension specialist specializing in aquaculture, is one of the driving forces behind ALEARN.
"Aquaculture and aquaponics are used in classrooms across the country to infuse science into agriculture curriculum," Cline said. "Teachers can use aquaculture to teach almost any subject from agriculture, biology, chemistry and math to business, plumbing and carpentry."
Alabama’s soil, water and human resources put the state among national leaders in aquaculture enterprises, both in volume and value of products sold.
Twenty-five different species are raised in over 18,000 acres of Alabama ponds and other culture systems. Alabama ranks second nationally with 145 million pounds of channel catfish harvested.
Channel catfish are produced in all counties of the state, but the Black Belt region in west central Alabama is particularly well-suited for commercial aquaculture. The Black Belt’s abundant, high-quality water supply and heavy clay soils are ideal for ponds.
Alabama’s Natural Resources
Alabama is a water-rich state with over 132,000 miles of rivers and streams, 3.6 million acres of wetlands and 560,000 acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
State water resources include springs, swamps, streams, reservoirs, small impoundments, natural ponds, estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico. Alabama ranks second in navigable waterways and sixth in hydropower generation.
Alabama’s abundance of water resources has contributed to Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences program being recognized as a top facility in the world.
Auburn researchers, along with Extension specialists, have collaborated and pooled resources to provide educators with a website packed with information, activities, videos and lesson plans.
Because water resources are used for a variety of things, from drinking to hydroelectric power, irrigation and recreation, making these resources available to educators in the classroom is vital.
Aquaculture-based Educational Resources
Cline said ALEARN provides online resources for teachers looking to implement aquaculture or aquaponics in their classroom. In addition to the online resources, Cline and other Extension specialists guide hands-on workshops for teachers. It is a crash course in aquaculture and aquaponics, and teachers build a small-scale system they can take back to their classroom.
Hundreds of educators from over 25 states have made the trip to Alabama to learn more about aquaculture.
The program also boasts a summer camp for youth.
"Fish Camp is a five-day camp open to students ages 15-18," Cline said. "It is a hands-on, academic camp designed to give students a well-rounded view of what it means to have a job related to fisheries or aquaculture."
Students have an opportunity to get in ponds, seine fish, collect macroinvertebrates to evaluate streams, complete a ropes course, kayak on the Coosa River and fish for a trophy in the research center ponds.
"Aquaculture has created opportunities for many students," Cline said. "One of the things aquaculture is good at is producing more food with less water."
He enjoys getting to open new horizons for students who have interests all across the board, but can find a common interest in aquaculture.