Freezing temperatures, snowfall, and short winter days haven’t stopped students from conducting a scientific experiment on plant growth in Mount Prospect Academy’s greenhouse.
The students are conducting a multi-week experiment, called The Tower Garden Challenge, which provides hands-on learning in science, math, and writing.
MPA teacher Jessica Boynton manages the greenhouse, and she has used the building to run The Tower Garden Challenge during the dead of winter. The experiment’s hands-on components help students stay engaged with the material they are learning, Boynton said.
“We’ll do five to 10-minute mini lectures as part of the experiment, followed by experiential learning pieces,” Boynton said. “I’ll go through vocabulary or talk about a concept associated with the scientific method, and then students will immediately spend time actually working with that concept or vocabulary.”
The Tower Garden Challenge aims to determine if manufacturer claims are true about aeroponic tower garden growing systems. The manufacturers tout that their products yield 30 percent more plant growth, three times faster, with 98 percent less water.
Students helped design the tower garden experiment from the ground up, using the scientific method to consider and control variables, run the experiment, and then collect and process data, Boynton added.
The experiment compares crop yield, growth time, and land/water consumption for plants grown in aeroponic tower garden growing systems versus plants that are grown in soil. Students will determine if aeroponic gardening systems do actually yield more growth, faster, with less water and land consumption.
“The students work in stations, so some students collect data while others conduct different tasks, and then they switch stations,” Boynton said. “If I were just lecturing, the students would just start fidgeting and lose the ability to pay attention within a few minutes.”
The project isn’t constrained to science learning only, Boynton added. Students use math to calculate the amount of land required to grow these plants in a farm field, convert measurement units, and process data.
Writing is another a major part of the project, Boynton said. “Whether it’s copying down something, or coming up with something independently, students are getting more exposure to writing, which is not a strong suit for many of them,” Boynton said.
MPA Science Teacher Karen McAlpine has brought her class to work on The Tower Garden Challenge with Boynton. “Students have been excited to see their plants grow, and so they are much more willing to do the math and writing pieces,” McAlpine said.
Students concluded the project’s data collection phase in December. They have moved on to processing data and preparing to present their results.
“I’m really hoping that I can just keep giving them tools, and they seem really receptive to putting this whole experiment into its final form,” Boynton added.
She is planning to have students deliver their results through a video report or verbal presentation.
“The kids have gotten a lot out of this,” McAlpine said. “It’s very nice that we’ve gotten to participate in The Tower Garden Challenge.”