With school hydroponics, teachers around Nevada are sowing the seeds of experiential STEM learning and the knowledge of tomorrow.
Last month, Green Our Planet brought the magic and science of school hydroponics to three schools in northern Nevada. On March 13, 2019, a truck loaded with three heavy pallets made the trek from Las Vegas to Reno with one goal in mind: bringing hands-on STEM education to more Nevada students. The pallets contained everything students at St. Albert the Great Elementary School and Innovations High School in Reno, NV and Riverview Elementary School in Dayton, NV needed to successfully grow food inside their schools—even when temperatures drop and snow settles outside classroom windows.
The schools each received a commercial hydroponics unit and additional materials to build five different kinds of DIY hydroponic units. From simple Kratky systems to more complex aeroponic systems, the students now use the units to get hands-on with science and math, solve real-life engineering and technology problems and dive deep into the agriculture of the future.
The Root of Green Our Planet’s Hydroponics Program
Green Our Planet’s road to northern Nevada started in 2017 when a partnership with the nonprofit Los Vaqueros brought the School Hydroponics Program to life. Born from the requests of Las Vegas teachers who wanted to expand their garden learning opportunities, the program focused on hydroponics and its unique blend of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)
“By bringing gardens indoors and using hydroponics, we’re able to introduce students to STEM through climate-controlled gardening,” said Green Our Planet’s Hydroponics Manager Taylor Quiram. “Students can do all sorts of hands-on experiments related to plant life cycles, mixtures and solutions, the effects of light on growing produce, as well as designing and engineering DIY hydroponic systems.”
The controllable nature of hydroponics made it a logical fit for classrooms and provided students a wealth of experiential learning opportunities. With the partnership between Green Our Planet and Los Vaqueros, the School Hydroponics Program flourished at 17 southern Nevada schools, especially inside where the units were protected from the wind and sun. After receiving interest in school gardens from teachers in Reno–where the climate doesn’t allow for year-round gardening–an idea sparked at Green Our Planet.
Experiential STEM Learning through School Hydroponics
The outdoor school garden movement had exploded in Las Vegas, but the chillier climate of northern Nevada called for different measures. “Launching Green Our Planet’s STEM Hydroponics Program in northern Nevada is a great opportunity to see how indoor gardening can benefit schools in locations where outdoor growing seasons don’t match well with the school calendar,” said Taylor Quiram. “It’s exciting to see the possibility of using school hydroponics systems to expand the science curriculum and make STEM garden lessons available to schools and students who otherwise might not be able to participate in garden projects and experiments due to weather constraints.”
Through the indoor hydroponic units, students now have the unprecedented opportunity learn STEM in a real-world situation with real-world consequences. Students have to find the optimal nutrient mix and temperature for the plants, otherwise their seedlings will grow slowly or die. However, if the students find the right concentration of nutrients, their plants will flourish in the school hydroponics units. Although their kale, basil, strawberries and lettuce could not survive a snowy January outside, they will grow happily where the temperature, lights and nutrients are controlled by students.
Adding to the experiential power of hydroponics, each school received a large school hydroponics system from Green Our Planet’s partner, Sananbio U.S. In this commercial unit, students can grow up to 216 heads of lettuce, herbs and other leafy greens at a time. With a harvest every 25-45 days, northern Nevada students can practice their financial literacy, math, and business skills by holding student-run farmers markets to sell their produce. Just like Las Vegas students, the Reno and Dayton students will experience a real business environment while getting their communities involved with the gardens.
Learning to Integrate Hydroponics into the Classroom
Along with providing the schools everything needed to grow plants without soil, Green Our Planet helped teachers get comfortable with their school hydroponics through a 7.5-hour teacher training. At St. Albert Elementary School, 30 teachers and students joined three members of Green Our Planet’s hydroponics team for a day of learning
“Hydroponics is exciting for teachers because it’s an opportunity to experiment with a new kind of instructional technology and explore how they can incorporate hydroponics into their curriculum,” said Sue Cormier, Green Our Planet’s Teacher Training Manager. The training introduced teachers to DIY hydroponics and Green Our Planet’s brand-new STEM Hydroponics Curriculum. The curriculum integrates Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with the endless experiential learning opportunities hydroponic systems offer, making it easy for teachers to use the units in their classes.
During the hands-on training, teachers built the five hydroponics systems, using materials sent to them by Green Our Planet. Additionally, they learned how to integrate the system into their classroom with Green Our Planet’s STEM Hydroponics Curriculum. “A key portion of this training focused on teacher content knowledge of hydroponic gardening skills,” Cormier explained. “Collaborating with colleagues, teachers designed and built a school hydroponics system which gave them the confidence to take hydroponics back to their classroom equipped with a grade-level curriculum that meets NGSS standards.”
Teachers walked away from the training knowing how to prepare seedlings for hydroponics, transplant seedlings into a system, prepare a nutrient solution and share their knowledge with their classrooms. Blending content knowledge with instruction on the STEM Hydroponics Curriculum, the training prepared the teachers to fully integrate the technology into their schools.
Kim MacQuarrie, co-CEO of Green Our Planet, was thrilled to see the teachers embrace their school hydroponics. “Hydroponics is the future. It’s the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the U.S. and the world,” he said. “With indoor hydroponics, you can grow crops independent of the weather, and you can grow vertically, so you don’t need soil or a lot of land.”
The expansion of Green Our Planet’s School Hydroponics Program to northern Nevada will help students learn new technology—students who will help usher in a new era of sustainable agriculture for our state.