Hands-on science is coming to classrooms across Idaho through the Harmony Box project — an educational tool developed at the University of Idaho that allows elementary and high school students to get hands-on science education.
Harmony Box is a miniature sustainable ecosystem consisting of fish, plants and water.
UI faculty member Ed Galindo works with several UI students to continue developing Harmony Box through research and connecting Harmony Box with teachers across the state.
“Harmony Box is basically a system to share with teachers to get students excited about science,” Galindo said. “It portrays the relationship of water, plants and animals and how the systems work together.”
Galindo said Harmony Box serves as an earth model that demonstrates how everything depends on another aspect of Earth, be it water, plants or animals. Teachers and students can create their own versions of Harmony Box and can choose to focus on one sector, such as hydroponically growing plants or learning about water chemistry.
Teachers are responsible for gaining funding to implement Harmony Box in their classrooms, but UI student Haley Egan said it’s a simple project that can have valuable learning results.
“Science is really cool, but just sitting in class listening to a lecture about atoms can be boring,” Egan said. “We wanted to figure out how to show kids how things work together and show them that science is everywhere. We want them to learn so they get that ‘wow-factor’, and they stop and think about how science works in the world.”
Harmony Box is set up in a tiered-type system, ideally with plants growing to feed the fish, fish providing fertilizer in the water, and the water and fertilizer continuing to help the plants grow.
Egan’s older brother, Josh Egan, is a UI graduate who helped initiate Harmony Box and is currently implementing a similar project at the University of Minnesota. Galindo and other involved students are continuing to develop Harmony Box to improve it and create projects that focus on individual aspects of Harmony Box.
“Bryce Delay, who helps with Harmony Box, is currently looking into aquaponics systems,” Egan said. “We don’t all have science-related majors, but we all contribute in different ways. A big part of science is integration. It’s important to work with a variety of people to get different perspectives and insight — which specialists may not have.”
Galindo said he believes UI should continue to provide outreach programs that educate, connect people and give back to the community. Galindo has worked with programs such as NASA’s Summer of Innovation and STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, both of which influenced the Harmony Box project.
Egan said with projects like Harmony Box, the gaps between science and society are bridged through the education those programs provide.
“We are essentially giving kids an idea,” Egan said. “We give them this project, and they just go with it. Kids are incredible. They have creativity and energy. They come up with solutions all the time and think of things we wouldn’t.”
Haley Egan said she thinks it energizes students to have college students who are excited about science come and work with them, and the students become competitive and strive to do better with the project than the college students.
Galindo said he credits the UI students involved in the project with the success of Harmony Box.
“I am so proud of all of the students that go to our school,” Galindo said. “There are many outstanding projects that UI students can get involved with, and I’ve been lucky to work with nice people. It is a privilege to be a part of this academic family.”
Cara Pantone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.