Preschoolers getting ready to taste their hydroponically-grown lettuce. Source: San Pedro Elementary, San Rafael, California, March 2020 Final Survey
By Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate
National Farm to School Network in partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and collaboration with KidsGardening is excited to release Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. This lesson guide is the product of the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project and includes basic how-to information for growing plants hydroponically in the classroom, lesson plans to help students learn through hands-on investigations, construction plans for simple hydroponic setups, and additional reference materials to support educators. The lessons are designed to align with third through fifth grade Next Generation Science Standards but can be adapted for both younger and older students and those with different abilities. The lessons are sequenced so that each topic builds upon the previous topics but the activities can also be used independently, in any order.
The Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project, launched in the fall of 2019, was aimed at integrating indoor hydroponics growing systems into systemically under resourced schools across the country. National Farm to School Network supported hydroponics experts, KidsGardening, in developing the curriculum guide, Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. During the 2019-2020 school year, the curriculum was used in conjunction with Scotts Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden hydroponic kits in 15 schools across California, New York and Washington D.C. In addition to introducing hydroponics into their science, technology engineering and math (STEM) classrooms, pilot schools participated in peer learning and networking calls to share successes and challenges with each other.
“The grow station is the shining light in an amazing space. It draws visitors to it and opens up conversation about what we do at FoodPrints and Kimball. The students love to talk about it. Thank you for letting us participate!” -Kimball Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
Between the 2018-2019 and the 2019-2020 school year, there was an overall increase in both engagement of students in garden-based activities as well as the total number of students reached by gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Standards as a direct result of the hydroponics system and curriculum.
By March 2020, a total of 2204 students were reached through the pilot project with gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Science Standards across New York, Washington D.C., and California, and 1954 students were directly engaged in lessons or activities using the hydroponics growing system. Additionally, between September 2019 and March 2020, there was a perceived 20% increase in student interest and a 15% increase in adult interest (teachers, administration, teaching aides, community members) in gardening as a direct result of the hydroponics system and Exploring Hydroponics curriculum.
“The Exploring Hydroponics guide has really been a huge asset to our science curriculum.” -Amidon-Bowen Elementary, Washington, D.C.
Pilot schools cited many observed benefits and positive outcomes due to the hydroponics curriculum and growing systems for students, families and adults in their respective school communities. These include:
Benefits for Students Benefits for Students, Families, Educators and Community Members
- Interest and knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts
- Increased demonstration of social-emotional development (e.g., cooperation, empathy, self-regulation)
- Access to fresh fruits and vegetables
- Increased engagement
- Improved attitudes, knowledge and behaviors
- Improved knowledge about gardening, agriculture and food systems
Teacher, Helene, leads students in exploring the hydroponics garden and learning about how far away their food comes from. Source: P.S. 32 The Belmont School, New York, January 2020 Site Visit
When schools began closing in March, some pilot schools were able to pivot and continue hydroponics and gardening learning at home. At Kimball Elementary, the FoodPrints teacher has encouraged kids to find bean or vegetable seeds, wrap them in damp paper towels, insert into a plastic bag, tape to a window with lots of sunlight and observe daily for germination. At other schools, teachers were able to take the hydroponics units home and update students remotely through online meetings and photos. The Exploring Hydroponics guide offers many remote-adaptable lessons and at-home opportunities including how to build an aeration system at home, map your meals explorations, exploring land use worksheets, discussion questions and digging deeper videos.
“I documented the plants before we left school, transplanted them with students into soil and we are studying how they are growing at home now via live meetings and pictures. Students have been engaged in a "regrow" vegetables from scratch lesson, and have shared amazing results of starting vegetables in water with scraps they normally would've thrown out.” –P.S. 32, The Belmont School, Bronx, NYNational Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation learned a lot from the schools as they piloted and adapted the Exploring Hydroponics curriculum, troubleshooted the AeroGarden grow kit, and brought the hydroponics learning experience to life for their students. By all measures, the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project has been a success: there was an overall increase in student and family engagement in gardening and farm to school activities as a direct result of the hydroponics growing system and curriculum. While the benefits and positive outcomes are substantial, opportunities for growth have also emerged:
Strategies for better curriculum integration of opportunities to encourage at-home hydroponics and gardening
- Adapting curriculum for younger ages
- More opportunities to support sustained implementation (e.g., to purchase pods and other necessary resources)
- Incorporating more multimedia tools or approaches within curriculum (e.g., instructional video)
- Collecting and disaggregating data based on race and income (e.g., which students are more likely to have access to gardening at home?)
- More opportunities to engage families
Students giving presentations to their classmates about hydroponics. Source: P.S. 214, Bronx, New York, March 2020 Final Survey
National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation are excited to see how schools continue to use their hydroponic curriculum and systems in the upcoming school year, whatever that may look like, and beyond. We know students increased their understanding of where their food comes from, the environmental impacts of growing food in soil versus water, their access to fresh produce, and we can’t wait to see these benefits grow.