Collab Lab 22: Recap & Notes

Collab Lab 22 was focused on how can schools leverage a greenhouse/aquaponics facility to provide a rich set of authentic learning experiences for students.  We structured the session as small group discussions focused on goals, the opportunities presented when these facilities are available to students, and what needs to be in place for educators to move forward.

Here’s what we came up with:


  • Develop authentic learning experiences
    • learn how to think systematically
  • Create a micro-economy
  • Tie into multiple areas within STEAM
  • Create tangible applications to drive student engagement
  • Pull in a new audience (of students)
  • Create a focus/spur for community development
  • Show students and colleagues what is possible
  • Create memorable, hands-on experiences for students
  • Aid local pantry
  • Develop a common language
  • Develop systems awareness
    • Circle of life– acquire food; manage waste; your role
  • Develop productive, self sustaining responsible adults– personal and work ethics
  • Collaborate for learning and greater benefit to community
  • Sustainable educational program
  • Included in educational curriculum standards
  • Equitable access to learning
  • Build literacy for the value of science

Key Takeaway:  The goal(s) for the facility should drive design



  • Cash crops
  • Allow students can see what one plant can provide
  • Build transferable skills
    • scientific illustration
    • ecosystems
    • problem solving
    • environmental law/policy
    • public speaking
    • making decisions
  • Tap into kids’ passions
  • Experiential learning — e.g. things break
  • Therapeutic effects/mindfulness
  • Chance for students to see small successes
  • Chance for students to collaborate with peers they would not otherwise interact with
  • Learn culinary skills/safe food handling
  • Build a connection to food/compassion for food systems
  • See something new
  • Experiment with sensors and controls
    • Live monitoring of system: pH, water usage, temperature
    • Build numeracy skills
  • Ag marketing apprenticeship
  • Healthy eating
  • Cooking with kids
  • Community engagement
  • Add meaning to field trips
    • Water/ponds in Milwaukee
  • Tie in to solar energy
  • Public policy implications
  • Develop aquaponics curriculum to build understanding of
    • systems thing
    • food production
    • scientific literacy
  • Inventory of best practices to share and collaborate
  • Accessible exposure to systems– e.g. turn the facility into a demonstration of a closed loop system
  • Composting to teach waste management
  • Start in elementary level to create mindset and culture


What is needed to move forward

  • Cultural norms
  • Buy-in from risk management, facilities & maintenance at the district level.
  • A teacher champion (and a backup)
  • A student champion
  • To be around people who know how to do this
  • Broad understanding of the value to students
  • A network of schools working with greenhouses/aquaponics
  • Revenue to cover costs/justify program (reduced need for field trips)
  • Build the case for academic ROI
  • Knowing how to measure behavioral outcomes
  • Regulatory knowledge– how to navigate contracts
  • Celebrate success
  • Space
  • To just start — learn from imperfections
  • Fundraising to expand/upgrade
  • Pioneers sharing their learning
  • Partners with knowledge, experience, funding
  • Colleagues who are motivated to take initiative
  • Tell the story– market the exciting things that are happening to the wider community
  • Create relationships to introduce accountability


Thanks again to The Commons for providing the space and to our featured participants for the experience and insight they brought to the discussion:

Charles Uihlein – Teens Grow Greens
Joe Jenna – Waukesha West High School
Sam Rikkers – Tiny Earth
Matt Ray – Fernwood Montessori (MPS)

Collab Lab 22: Greenhouses/Aquaponics

How can schools leverage a greenhouse/aquaponics facility to provide a rich set of authentic learning experiences for students?

If you’re thinking about adding a greenhouse/aquaponics to your school’s programming, what can you learn from those who have been at this for a while?  If you have those facilities, what are the ways you could tap the interests of students and colleagues to create an even richer set of experiences?

Come share ideas with your colleagues at public, private, and charter schools from across greater Milwaukee, as well as some folks outside of K12 who offer an interesting perspective on the topic.



5:30 – 6:00 Grab something to eat and drink, say hello

6:00 – 6:20 Introductions

6:20 – 8:30 Let’s explore some ideas

Food and beverage will be provided. There is no charge for participation but space is limited!

Featured Participants

Among others, you’ll have a chance to talk with:


Charles Uihlein, Claire Muza – Teens Grow Greens

Teens Grow Greens is a nine-month paid internship for teenagers.  During the internship Teens develop life-skills through hands-on experience in healthy living, leadership and entrepreneurship. The group owns and manages Weber’s Greenhouses which not only provide fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers for the community, but employ graduates of Teens Grow Greens, provide a hone base for the organizations innovative programming, and serve as a community hub.


Joe Jenna, Special Education Teacher, Waukesha West High School

For the last 22 years Joe has specialize in teaching math in self contained, intervention, and team taught regular education environments. His passion, and labor of love, is teaching a special education science class to students with Intellectual Disabilities based out of the greenhouse and the 1500 gallon aquaponics system at West as well as composting scraps from the cafeteria daily. Joe has been running the “Aquatic Roots” greenhouse at West for six years. He enjoys being a student all over again studying other systems and learning from mistakes and growing in his professional practice each year. The Aquatic Roots program has partnered with the community donating fish to the Waukesha Food Pantry and being a recipient of several financial donations from the Spring City Garden Club. Joe has made it a goal to secure the funding to build a new 1,500 square foot greenhouse to provide more classroom space and turn Aquatic Roots into a District wide (K-12) program allowing over 13,000 students the opportunity to learn about aquaponics and composting.


Sam Rikkers – Executive Director, Tiny Earth

Tiny Earth is a network of instructors and students focused on crowdsourcing antibiotic discovery from soil. The mission of the program is two-fold: First, it seeks to inspire students to pursue careers in science through original laboratory and field research conducted in introductory courses with the potential for global impact. Second, it aims to address a worldwide health threat—the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics—by tapping into the collective power of many student researchers concurrently tackling the same challenge, living up to its motto “studentsourcing antibiotic discovery.”


Matt Ray – Teacher & Greenhouse Guy, Fernwood Montessori (MPS)

Matt has a BS in Psychology and MEd Curriculum & Instruction with a focus on Montessori. He’s been teaching for 28 years, covering grades 1-8, currently teaching at the at middle school level.  Matt is an Educational Designer and practitioner focused on experiential education, working in Sustainability Education since 2009.  He has been involved in the design, operation, instruction, and consulting for aquaponic systems since 2007.


Dr. Michael Carriere – Associate Professor, MSOE

Michael H. Carriere is an associate professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), where he teaches courses on American history, environmental studies, and urban design. He is also director of MSOE’s University Scholars Honors Program and co-director of ReciproCITY, a mobile arts collective based in Milwaukee. He has written on the topic of urban agriculture for such publications as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Aggregate, and the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. He is currently working on a history of urban agriculture in Milwaukee.


2023-24 Collab Labs

Skip to content
Verified by MonsterInsights