top logo

An Inspiring Story - An Aquarium for a Classroom

All of us who really love the tropical fish hobby know that for the hobby to continue we need to get kids “hooked on fish.” For many of us, the fascination with keeping living things in water in glass cages started in our childhood, and we would really like to pass on our enthusiasm to the younger generation. Knowing and doing are two very different things – and John Naoum of Marlborough, MA, decided to do – not just to know.

The Story by David Lass

John is the owner of Poseidon Aquariums, an aquarium installation and maintenance company that he runs out of his house in Marlborough, a town about an hour outside Boston. In addition to his business, John has a great fish room in his basement, and is especially interested the Convict cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus) and other fish of the Archocentrus genus.

John's 8-year old son John is a third grader at Jaworek Elementary School in Marlborough, and one day when he came home from school he told his dad that his class was going to be allowed to have a classroom pet, and that they had voted on fish. John emailed his son's teacher, Mrs. Kelly Hall, and offered to provide them with a complete aquarium, and to help them set it up; in addition, John offered to do the maintenance on the tank, if the kids would help. Mrs. Hall's enthusiasm for the project was expressed to John in a response to his email offering the tank. She wrote John: "Wow!!!! I feel like I hit the jackpot!!!! The children voted on a classroom reward and that was what they picked. I was thinking a goldfish or a Betta, but this would be better. We have to earn this first, but I would love to take you up on your generous offer. I would hope that we could earn enough points over the next two weeks. I will let you know when we are getting close and then you can let me know what works for you. Would you like to do some sort of "Fish Presentation?" I don't want to put you on the spot but we could turn this into a learning project. The children will be so excited...I am sure this will give them some motivation to work as a TEAM." Everything was set for a great experience for the kids, and a start to developing many more new hobbyists.

The Aquarium

John had a 20-gallon high tank that had been set up at one of his client's place of business, and they were trading up to a larger tank. John thought this would be a perfect size tank for his son John's third grade classroom, and he arranged with Mrs. Hall to make this the class tank. Since he has all the equipment – buckets, pumps, hoses, etc. – for handling tank maintenance, John and Mrs. Hall agreed that he would take the tank down from where it had been, and set it up exactly as it had been in its new home in Mrs. Kelly's classroom. In preparation for the grand installation day, John had Mrs. Hall divide the 20 or so kids in the class into "work details", so that when he arrived with everything – tank, gravel, plants, fish, and other equipment – they would make a class project out of setting up the tank. The work crews were divided into:

  • The Gravel Crew – John had taken all the gravel from the tank, rinses it lightly to remove dirt, but being careful to keep the good bacteria in the gravel alive. The gravel crew put the gravel intro the tank using small cups.
  • The Plant Gang – with the wet gravel and a bit of water in the tank, John directed this group of kids in planting the plants – all the while John explained to them why plants were so important in an aquarium. They planted small sag in the front and taller val in the back, and on one side of the tank they had a big piece of driftwood that was covered with Java Fern. The kids took turns planting and placing.
  • The Water Department – was the next batch of kids. John had brought most of the water that was in the tank, and he supervised as they pumped the water into the tank from the five-gallon buckets John had brought it to the school in.
  • The Mechanics – were in charge of the light and filter (no heater – as the fish in the tank didn't have one in the pharmacy where they had been before, and John didn't think one was necessary in the classroom). The light had two fifteen watt fluorescents, and the light was put on a timer to allow for light to be on twelve hours a day. The filter was an AquaClear 200, set up with the sponges and "bio-balls" to take care of the biological and mechanical filtration. The plants take care of the chemical filtration, and the filter does not have any carbon in it.
The Animals

After the tank was all set up by the kids, with John's help, they were ready for the fish. The fish consisted of a breeding colony of Diamond Tetras (Moenkhausia pittieri) – this absolutely gorgeous fish will successfully breed in a tank as long as there are no other fish to gobble up the baby fish. John sent Mrs. Kelly a photograph of the fish, with the location in Venezuela where the originate from, and all of the fins marked; this project was the beginning of an excellent learning experience for these young kids. In addition to the Diamond Tetras there are about a dozen red cherry shrimp for cleanup and algae duty.

Feeding and Maintenance

John has arranged with Mrs. Hall for the kids to feed the fish, but he has done with this tank what he does with all of the tanks he maintains – he gave them two of those seven day pill cases, each with the right amount of food for each day. The little pockets for Saturday and Sunday are empty, and John had explained to the class that fish do not need to eat every day. When one of the pill cases is empty, son John brings it home and dad refills it and sends it off to school with his son the next day. That is all the food the fish get, and it is all they need. John has been doing monthly maintenance on the tank, but the maintenance is scheduled with Mrs. Hall, and it is part of the learning experience of having the tank in the classroom.


So far things are going very well. We are coming up on the first long vacation period, and John is going to check to see what temperature they maintain the classrooms during school vacations. If the temperature is too low during vacations, and even during the weekends, John may have to add a heater to the tank. You would be surprised how low a temperature some "tropical" fish can take, as long as the drop and subsequent rise back happens very slowly. John's enthusiasm is contagious, and Mrs. Hall's third grade class at Jaworek Elementary School in Marlborough, MA all love the tank, and are learning a lot from it. "The kids were dynamite," says John. "And it was fun setting it up. We all want to find a way to pass on our love of fish to the next generations. I hope this project may spark some interest in the kids so they become hobbyists themselves."