This section offers some ideas for planning hydroponics experiences to help students explore key concepts and generate their own investigations. How you begin to study hydroponic gardening with your students depends on your own philosophy, your curriculum objectives, and the developmental levels of your students. You may wish to have one large hydroponics setup in your classroom to which each child contributes ideas and materials. Or you may ask small groups or individuals to choose a design or invent their own setup based on their understanding of plant needs and hydroponics.
Hydroponics projects can support these different learning styles and provide an opportunity for students to appreciate one another's differences. Consider establishing small cooperative groups of two to four students, while still allowing students to work alone for short periods of time. Make reference materials available in your classroom or in the school library. Create a climate in which students share their discoveries with the class. Invite final reports and creative presentations. Challenge students to pursue their own questions and establish a knowledge base through active investigation.
As students work with hydroponics setups and concepts, their experiences and observations are likely to spark a variety of questions they can actively investigate through observations, experiments, or additional research.
- How do plants grown in a soil-based (geoponic) system differ from those grown in a hydroponic system?
- What might happen if we leave out a specific plant nutrient, or put in too much of another?
- Can we use houseplant fertilizers for hydroponic growing?
- How does the growth of plants grown with different amounts of aeration compare?
- Can we invent an automatic hydroponic unit from recycled materials?
- Can we grow enough herbs to share or sell?
- Can we simulate a pond or other wetland environment using what we know about hydroponics?
As students conduct and begin to make meaning from their investigations, it's important to help them reflect on their experimental setups. Encourage them to review and critique their own and others' science process by asking questions, in journals and in group discussions or reviews: Was this a fair test? What other variables besides those we tested could have influenced our results? How could we revise this experiment if we were to do it again?
Consider ways to help students make connections between their classroom experiences and broader concepts and issues in science and technology (raising food in space, for instance). Communicating with others can help them make these connections. For example, they might write a series of directions or produce visual or dramatic displays to demonstrate their understanding of an aspect of hydroponics. Involving a real audience such as parents and other community members can serve as a powerful learning tool, good public relations, and a way for you to assess what your students have learned. Hydroponics units may spark an interest in learning more about the real-life and potential applications of hydroponic technology, as well as its limitations. Keep an eye on local supermarkets for hydroponically grown vegetables, and look for hydroponic facilities to visit at commercial or public greenhouses and nurseries. The Classroom Stories in this guide reveal how other classrooms have branched out with hydroponics.
Addressing Science Standards
As with any unit, it's important to identify what you hope students will gain from the activities and investigations, recognizing that a range of unintended outcomes will also emerge as students explore based on their own interests. Following are just a few of the National Science Education Standards-related concepts and skills that you might address in a hydroponics unit.
- characteristics of organisms (needs and environments that meet them)
- life cycles
- structure and function in living systems
- asking questions about objects, organisms, and events
- planning and conducting investigations (and fair tests)
- seeking information from reliable sources
- working individually and in teams to collect data and share information and ideas
- identifying problems, proposing and implementing solutions
- designing technology
- understanding science and technology