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3rd graders learn by proprogating corals (but perhaps not the safest type)

By Leonard Ho - Posted Nov 14, 2013 08:00 AM
Teacher Brandon Rutherford has come up with a wonderful way to engage his young students with science. In his Illinois classroom, the children are taught to propagate live coral from the classroom's 160 gallon reef aquarium.
3rd graders learn by proprogating corals (but perhaps not the safest type)

Mr. Rutherford instructs his students on how to propagate corals. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, John Dixon)

Garden Hills Elementary School, Champaign, Illinois Having a 160 gallon reef aquarium in your 3rd grade classroom provides plenty of enrichment in and of itself, but Mr. Rutherford takes interactive education up a notch by teaching his students how to carefully propagate corals for the class tank. Not surprisingly, the children embrace the special experience with great curiosity and excitement, bombarding their teacher with questions as they learn about science and personal responsibility.  According to

The reef is more than a pretty fish tank. Rutherford describes it as a "mini-ecosystem" that requires students to understand math, chemistry and other science to keep it alive. Students started the year learning the chemistry and physics behind what makes the tank work, including acid-base reactions, the nitrogen cycle and other parts of marine biology.


(AP Photo/The News-Gazette, John Dixon)

Mr. Rutherford spent $5,000 of his own money to bring science and marine biology into a Midwest classroom: Now that is our kind of teacher!  Read the full story at

As a word of caution: We must express concern about the type of coral Mr. Rutherford decided to propagate: Zoanthids.  Some species of zoanthids contain palytoxin, the world's second most deadly toxin.  We've heard and shared many stores about horrifying palytoxin poisoning amongst reefkeepers.  Mr. Rutherford clearly supervises his students with utmost diligence by requiring the children to wear goggles and gloves during propagation sessions.  Still, we recommend propagating other corals in their aquarium as the safer choice.

Frag plugs in a grade-school classroom!
(AP Photo/The News-Gazette, John Dixon)

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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