Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Rebecca M. Krall


There is a need for secondary schools to provide more authentic, hands-on experiences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and specifically, project-based investigation (PBI) environments in the classroom that focus on real-world problems relevant to students’ experiences, interest, and lives that manifest the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) following practices they prescribe. This study investigated how, to what extent, a contextualized aquaponics PBI (APBI) 10-week model unit affected high school students’ attitudes toward STEM in general, and aquaculture and aquaponics in particular, and interests in future STEM-related disciplines and/or STEM career pathways. This study also measured changes in students’ understanding of standard-based ecological relationships and concepts concerning interactions in ecosystems and specifically the phenomena carrying capacity and bacterial nitrification process. Currently, there is very little research literature on how APBI may engage students in learning science, initiate affective attitudes and interest in their local environments, and potentially pique their interests in STEM, and aquaculture/aquaponics fields as a career choice.

Using a quantitative methods, quasi-experimental research design, three different student groups who participated in the authentic, hands-on APBI intervention (i.e., treatment groups) were given a pre- and post-attitude/interest survey (N=55). The 12 survey items were rated by a 5-point Likert-type scale that measured changes in student interest and attitudes toward STEM as discipline and area of interest. In addition, the survey included a profile of the respondents with the demographic items. Further, the treatment groups and control group were given a pre- and post-content-aligned test (N=88) which measured changes in students’ ecological knowledge.

The results in this study revealed that the intervention contributed to the treatment group students’ positive attitudes toward STEM in general, and aquaculture and aquaponics in particular, and developing an interest in STEM disciplines and/or STEM career pursuits. Results also demonstrate that the project-based intervention, utilizing a real-life aquaculture/aquaponics context, was an effective method to provide meaningful learning and content understanding of standard-based ecological concepts and relationships. The evidence from this study suggest that authentic instructional experiences can facilitate students’ understanding of standard-based ecological concepts and knowledge of ecosystems as the three treatment group students showed statistically significantly higher mean difference (improvement) sum scores after taking the pre- and post-content-aligned assessment when compared to the control group (Group 1).

Overall, the gain in understanding and appreciation for and interest in STEM and aquaculture can be attributed to the project-enhanced unit implemented in this study. The implications of this study suggest APBI models may create authentic science learning environments that promote student learning of scientific concepts while piquing their interest in STEM related disciplines and/or career pathways. The intervention design and findings in this study may provide educators new insights and ideas on how to incorporate and use contextualized, aquaponics project-based instruction as a teaching and learning tool. In addition, APBI can offer engaging curricula that articulates NGSS.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Saturday, November 14, 2020