Let it grow: US1 students discover magic of hydroponics

02/06/17 03:14:pm

On a recent afternoon, students in Arpa Ghazarian's US1 Science class presented the culmination of hours of hard work. While it wasn't exactly as arduous as tilling soil, they certainly had their work cut out for them as they attempted to synthesize their knowledge of plants, designing their own hydroponic system and presenting on their results.

"The students have been studying the role of plants in our local and global communities," explained Ms. Ghazarian, noting that the studies began with photosynthesis and plant growth and blossoming (pun very much intended) from there. "They had to think about how people with no yards, who live in apartments, or even astronauts in space can grow vegetables. Additionally, living in the drought-affected state of California, they learned about the importance of hydroponics in growing our food."

Students had an up-close-and-personal glimpse into exactly how much water goes into growing some of our favorite foods, and worked in teams to engineer a workable solution. "Hydroponics deals with physical science, biology, engineering, chemistry, ecology, politics, and much more. Growing these plants encourages innovation and critical thinking, and connects students with where their food comes from and to think about sustainability," said Ms. Ghazarian.

The in-class presentations showed a diverse range of solutions to the problems presented. Students evaluated one another on their presentations and experiments, and each group discussed how they met the challenge with aplomb. "We learned a very valuable lesson along the way," said student Madeline A., who was part of a group that was unable to get their seed to grow. Indeed: the scientific method is just as much about discovering and unpacking what doesn't work as it is looking at more traditionally "successful" projects.

"We found we had to make slight changes, because certain things weren't working, and our design would eventually drown the plant," shared student Dashiell F., whose group was ultimately successful in growing the seed, but had to work through some initial design challenges.

No matter what the experimental outcome, the class exercise was quite a success. "I was most impressed by my students' ability to delve deep into the topic and to apply what they learned to designing their solutions," said Ms. Ghazarian, "and also how quickly they picked up on the concepts of photosynthesis and cellular respiration just by engaging in the project using the engineering design process."