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Shark Tanks: Educational, Empowering, Enjoyable!

January 27, 2017 | By |

Spark-Y has always been about empowering youth and letting students take control of their education and their future, and students who participate in Shark Tank events in Spark-Y programs get to do just that. These activities are great learning experiences for all ages and have been used throughout the semester in all kinds of schools, including Northeast Middle School, Prairie View Elementary, and Edison High School in the EASY Pro program!


Shark Tanks are an interdisciplinary activity that showcase the student ideas for the design and utilisation of the sustainable systems being installed through their Spark-Y program. Preparing their ideas, designs and pitches is often an intensive group project – a great opportunity to practice those all-important teamwork skills in a supported way. Shark Tanks, where students pitch their projects to a panel of experts or community members, also allow students to showcase their developing professional skills, including greetings and handshakes, oral and visual communication, and problem solving and critical thinking. Students get the opportunity to take real ownership, not only of these projects and their education, but also of the bigger developments on their school campus’.


The Shark Tank event at Northeast Middle School on Friday Jan 13th is one that will go down in Spark-Y history! 7th graders pitched their aquaponics system designs and utilization plans to an all-star panel of professionals from the school district, and city and state leadership. We were so humbled to have the following wonderful people support our students:
Mayor Betsy Hodges, Senior Policy Adviser to the Mayor Phillipe Cunningham, Council Member Kevin Reich, Senator Jim Carlson, Michael Thomas MPS Chief of Academics, Leadership & Learning, Macarre Traynham MPS Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Naomi Taylor MPS Co-Chair of Pedagogy of Equity, Ed Graff MPS Superintendent, Betsy Stretch MPS STEM Curriculum Integration Specialist , Eric Moore MPS Chief of Accountability, Innovation, & Research, Susanne Griffin MPS Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Jenny Arneson MPS Board of Education Treasurer, Jackie Hanson MPS Associate Superintendent and Vernon Rowe Principal of Northeast Middle School.


To top it all off – the Mayor proclaimed Friday Jan 13th 2017 to be Northeast Middle School / Spark-Y Sustainability day in the City of Minneapolis!

What a powerful way to show these kids that they are seen, they are heard, and they are respected leaders in our community. Shout out to a community that shows up for youth!


Garden to Cafeteria at Edison High School

December 29, 2016 | By |

Sarah Pilato
Spark-Y GreenCorps Member

It might be the middle of winter here in Minnesota, but it’s never too early to start thinking about spring gardening! At Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis, the Edison Entrepreneurial Academy has been making great strides on their Green Campus initiatives, one of which include beginning a year-round Garden to Cafeteria program, with the goal of providing the Edison cafeteria with fresh produce grown and harvested from both indoor and outdoor school gardens.


Before winter break class was visited by Kate Seybold of Minneapolis Public School’s Culinary and Wellness Center. Kate was very excited to hear about the interest from Edison students to bring fresh and local food right into their cafeteria and was happy to discuss the district’s Farm To School and Garden to Cafeteria programs. It was a great chance for students to learn about why getting fresh, local produce to our schools is so important and how our students can help achieve those goals.

Students participating in the Garden To Cafeteria initiative have already met with cafeteria staff to talk about what they hope to accomplish and to decide which vegetables and herbs would be most beneficial to grow in their garden spaces. Within a couple of months they will begin planting and caring for the outdoor greenhouse and the soon-to-be completed aquaponics system that the Edison EASY-pro class is currently constructing. Until then, they will be researching and writing their food safety plan to ensure proper precautions are being taken by every student, staff member, or volunteer involved.

This project is providing a full range of professional development opportunities and agricultural skills practice for Edison students! It’s wonderful to see our students take such an interest in sustainability and to be working towards such big goals!

Why Hands-on Education Matters

October 7, 2016 | By |

Elizabeth Logas-Lindstrom
Executive Assistant

As a Spark-Y staff member working primarily in the office, I experience most of our programs second-hand through our capable education facilitators. This week, however, I was thrilled to leave my desk and computer for a day and join Hill-Murray School’s eighth grade class’ vermicompost system build.


The vermicompost system, which will use worms to compost the cafeteria’s food waste, was designed and prepped by Spark-Y’s Operations Director, Sam, and assembled almost entirely by students. Eighth graders worked in teams to make measurements, cut planks, drill holes, and put the system together—often participating in construction for the first time ever. Students obviously love the break in routine a build day offers, but for an eighth grader, building something during the school day isn’t just an excuse to ditch the classroom and spend time outside. It’s a deeply impactful and empowering learning experience.

At the build students demonstrated the benefits of hands-on learning over and over again. One eighth grader, reluctant to try using a power tool, stood at the back of her group and told me she was scared of the saw. I coaxed her over, and timidly the student marked her measurement, lined up the wood plank, made the cut, and looked up grinning. She asked, “Can I do another one? That was so fun!” She performed the next cut confidently and without fear, wearing a big smile the entire time.


Another student explained to me that she couldn’t help with measurements because she’s “bad at math.” We did the first measurement together and thirty minutes later she was still at the measuring table telling a friend, “I love making measurements! I’m so good at it!” This student, who didn’t think she was good at math, spent 45 minutes calculating measurements and feeling valued, smart, and capable.

When students build things with Spark-Y they face fears with confidence and determination. They learn the meaning of “I can do it” and “I’m good at this.” They learn what empowerment feels like while making their school a more sustainable campus. The best part of all that learning: the students have fun while doing it! And that’s what Spark-Y is all about.

Introducing the Spark-Y Bio Lab!

September 6, 2016 | By |

Today’s spotlight is on the DIY Bio lab at Spark-Y. Although a segment of the lab based support team for the last three years and a growing branch of the Spark-Y tree, not much has been published about our DIY Bio lab. It’s time to take a closer look at what we have to offer.

Microscope Adventures

What is DIY Bio?

Also known as Bio-hacking, DIY Bio is a movement of hobbyists aiming to increase accessibility to all types of biology, often focusing on molecular biology. At Spark-Y, this takes the form of making low-cost alternatives to expensive peaces of equipment. Some examples are our 3D printed pipettes, Light Bulb PCR machine, and in house assembled gel imager.


What is our lab like?
Our small, BioSafetyLevel1 lab is tucked into a corner of our office area at our Chicago Ave. headquarters. We focus heavily on biology and use our space to investigate, explore, and augment other branches of Spark-Y. Some projects that we have recently completed are STEM experiment kits for our educators to take with them to our programs. We are currently working on outfitting our test system with sensing and data logging capabilities.

Woah cool, how long has Spark-Y had a lab?
The first incarnation of the lab was made in the summer of 2013, and was made of donated cabinetry. The lab was re-made in it’s current location spring of 2016. Most of our equipment was either purchased when the first lab was made or donated.

What can a lab like this do?
Although we have some limitations when it comes to safety (all organisms must be bio-safety level one) and chemical disposal (drain safe chemicals only), we are able to perform the basics of molecular biology such as DNA analysis. Much of our work is in the small electronics field, building equipment.

I like science! Can I work in the lab too?
YES! Our mission is to increase access and involvement in STEM disciplines – If you are a hobbyist and need a place to work on your science-y project, come hang out on our open lab nights! Contact or the MN DIY Bio group ( for more information.

If you are a minor and would like to do some hands on science, we will be offering workshops. Stay tuned!

Maker faire 2016 pics 1

Spark-Y and WCCO at the MN State Fair

September 1, 2016 | By |

WCCO Screenshot Sam

WCCO Screenshot Plants

We are so excited that WCCO featured Spark-Y and our friends at The Common Table in a segment on the morning news! Check out Zach and Sam as they explain a little bit about what Spark-Y does, and the basics and benefits of aquaponics. The segment also features the amazing system we set up in the Agriculture and Horticulture building at the State Fair and some of the great things that The Common Table is doing around the Twin Cities.

Did you know that aquaponics grows plants and fish in an enclosed ecosystem? Watch the segments here to find out how!

We would like to thank Kylie Bearse and everyone at WCCO for an amazing interview and allowing us to show everyone in the Twin Cities exactly what we’re so passionate about.

Interested in what you see? Contact us at Spark-Y and find out how you can get an aquaponics system of your own.