INDIRE Partnership


Project Dates: 2018 – present

TLTL has partnered with the National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research (INDIRE), the research arm of the Italian Ministry of Education, to study, implement, and share innovative approaches to pre-university science and maker education in Italy.

Since 2018, the team of researchers from TLTL and INDIRE has focused on developing and studying curricular units based on the Bifocal Modeling Framework, an innovative approach to inquiry-driven science learning that involves examining physical experiments and computer models in parallel (learn more about Bifocal Modeling here). After a year of training as well as curriculum and technology development, the research team piloted the first of such units, The Hydroponic Greenhouse at School, in 4 schools.

Apart from curriculum development and research activities, the TLTL also collaborates with INDIRE to host FabLearn Italy–an annual conference that gathers researchers, teachers, educators and practitioners that work with the aim to bring the principles of making and educational robotics to formal, non-formal and informal education settings.

The Hydroponic Greenhouse at School Project

Project dates: 2018 – present

Hydroponic Greenhouse at School is a pilot curriculum development project for incorporating bifocal modeling in K-12 biology classes. In this unit, students explore plant growth using hydroponic greenhouses with special sensors, which students use to collect data such as amount of light exposure and nutrients. Students then compare the real-world data with their computer models in order to predict the success of their greenhouses.

The project features four core components: instructional materials for teachers, the hydroponic greenhouse kit, the computer model, and research activities

Instructional materials for teachers:
The instructional materials include three elements:

  1. An introduction which contains general information about hydroponic systems
  2. A lesson plan
  3. A manual with the instructions for the DIY hydroponic greenhouse kit.

The lesson plan was based on the Bifocal Modeling Framework and was developed using a backward design approach. The topic of plant growth, photosynthesis, and ecosystems is part of Italy’s common curriculum and generally taught in grades 4-9. The development of the curricular materials involved engaging teachers in a co-design process, the lesson plan was adapted to the teacher’s needs without modifying the core features of the framework and the primary learning goals of the unit.

The big ideas and essential questions for the Hydroponics at School Unit:

  1. Models are used to explain and explore scientific concepts (How do models contribute to understanding the scientific phenomenon?)
  2. Plants grow in various conditions (How do plants grow?).

The hydroponic greenhouse kit:
The TLTL-INDIRE team engaged a product designer to develop a do-it-yourself (DIY) kit using everyday or recycled materials. The kit consists of a waterproof tank to contain water and nutrients, a polystyrene board containing holes that floats on the water, and cups containing perforated sponges that act as the growing media. The DIY kit allowed schools to build more than one greenhouse in each class to explore different environmental conditions. The students had the agency to measure all the variables they thought were important.

The computer model:
The TLTL-INDIRE team Initially developed a computer model for the hydroponics system in NetLogo, a free and open-source programming environment for scientific modeling. Additionally, the research team worked with teachers to co-design a computer model of the hydroponic system in Scratch aimed at younger learners. The resulting model includes three main variables: water, light, nutrients. The values of each variable ​​can toggle between three levels of “low”, “average” and “high”.

Research activities:
The aim was to study the implementation of the hydroponics unit in several schools as a proof-of-concept for the adaptation of the Bifocal Modeling Framework in Italy’s pre-university science curriculum. The assessment tools for students and teacher surveys were based on previous studies. Additionally, existing content and modelling assessment tools were adapted to the Italian target audience. In November 2019, the TLTL research team joined the INDIRE researchers in Italy for data collection, conducting interviews, surveys, and class observations in schools around Florence.

Hydroponic Greenhouse at School pilot implementation and study, by the numbers:
Schools: 4
Teachers: 9
Students: 112

Project website (INDIRE)


Photos of the Hydroponic Greenhouse at School

November 20 – 22, 2019

Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy

Lorenzo Guasti (INDIRE)
David Scaradozzi (Università Politecnica delle Marche)
Paulo Blikstein (Global FabLearn Chair, Teachers College, Columbia University)

Keynote speakers:
Paulo Blikstein (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Fiorella Operto (Scuola di Robotica)
Maria Ranieri (Università di Firenze)
Linda Daniela (Latvijas Universitate)
Luisa Zecca (Università Milano-Bicocca)
Samuele Borri (INDIRE)
Kasper Kjeldgaard Stoltz (NERD Architects)
Giovanni Nulli (INDIRE)

By the numbers:
Attendees: 250 researchers, educators, and professionals, as well as 700 students


Poster gallery

FabLearn Italy 2018

October 19, 2018

Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy

Paulo Blikstein (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Tamar Fuhrmann (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Maria Ranieri (Università di Firenze)
Ida Sgura (Montessori Biliotta Comprehensive Institute of Francavilla Fontana (Brindisi))
Pierfrancesco Vania (Montessori Biliotta Comprehensive Institute of Francavilla Fontana (Brindisi))
Stefano Converso (Università Roma Tre)
Daniele Barca (Istituto Comprensivo 3 di Modena)
Samuele Borri (INDIRE)
Lorenzo Guasti (INDIRE)
Giovanni Nulli (INDIRE)
Alessia Rosa (INDIRE)
Leonardo Tosi (INDIRE)


Photos from FabLearn Italy 2018


Principal Investigators:
Paulo Blikstein (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Tamar Fuhrmann (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Lorenzo Guasti (INDIRE)

Program manager:
Livia Macedo (Teachers College, Columbia University)

Associated Researchers:
Jessica Niewint-Gori (INDIRE)
Deeana Ijaz Ahmed (Teachers College, Columbia University)

Technical assistant:
Micol Chiarantini (INDIRE)
Laura Messini (INDIRE)
Luca Bassani (INDIRE)
Jonathan Pang (Teachers College, Columbia University)



Collaborating organization

The National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research (INDIRE), Italy



“Didattica Laboratoriale Multidisciplinare” (10.8.4.A2-FSEPON-INDIRE-2017-1) of the National Operational Program (PON)



For more information, please contact Tamar Fuhrmann (