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:
- An introduction which contains general information about hydroponic systems
- A lesson plan
- 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:
- Models are used to explain and explore scientific concepts (How do models contribute to understanding the scientific phenomenon?)
- 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”.
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:
Project website (INDIRE)
Photos of the Hydroponic Greenhouse at School