Toledo middle school students who are finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for hydroponics with instructor Ms. Stead.
Toledo Middle School students have been named as a finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for hydroponics. They have received $15,000 for their accomplishments and could garner even more money if they go farther in this amazing competition.
It is amazing to see what these students are learning. Hydroponics is a way to grow a garden without the need for soil. They also have aeroponics which is also growing without the need for soil. These students really enjoy this project and it shows. When they are done, the food grown will go back to the school and community. These students aren't just learning how to grow without soil but they are also learning the importance of giving back to your community.
Asking the students a few questions, they stated this about what they hope to learn, "Learn how plants can be grown in just water and how to build a hydroponic system." They also stated they are having fun "Doing hands-on tasks and working with my friends is the most fun."
After we had an opportunity to gather more information from Ms. Stead the instructor who is teaching hydroponics. When asked why she brought hydroponics to the school, she stated, "TMS received a grant from the EPA, administered through the Chehalis Basin Educational Consortium, about 7 years ago, for the construction of the original hydroponic units in the windows. The purpose at the time was to grow native plants for the Old Pacific HWY trail. Hydroponics was selected for several reasons: sustainability of a soil-less farming method, space-saving, controlled production, students gained a clear understanding of material cycling through an ecosystem, students could use the systems for their own created investigations, and students could learn how to create the system at home.
Originally, the growing systems were an aquaponic set-up; meaning fish provided the key nutrients to plants through fish waste and the plants cleaned the water of nitrates for the health of the fish. Due to COVID, we are unable to have fish in the classroom and switched to an artificially created nutrient solution using commercial fertilizer, this is hydroponics. On a trip to Jackson Hole, WY two years ago, I saw a four-story, glass building, which was a commercial food crop application of hydroponics. Our hydroponic unit uses the same application principles, with one exception, lighting. Last year, I showed students photos of the facility and they went to work. Students designed and built the lighting systems and seed racks. They have been working since then to improve their rafting systems to allow plants to grow in recycled k-cups while floating on the surface of nutrient water and improve lighting. Families and the community donated seeds, starting soil mix, k-cups, coolers, lights, helped students wire lights, helped build the wood framing for seed racks, and helped students learn how to plant seeds and transplant seedlings."
Her thoughts on Toledo Middle School being a finalist, she is proud of her students, she stated, "Toledo students make me proud to be their teacher, every day. My students consistently live up to the sign on my door: Genius Hour in Session. They put their heart, minds, and hands into this project for the benefit of others; winning a cash prize as the Washington State Finalist is a bonus. Our students deserve the best we can offer them each day and when the best is a set of recycled holiday lights and they are excited about the lights, I am saddened that at the moment, because they didn't have something better. The $15,000 prize money students won will be used to purchase grow lights and water pumps for their hydroponic systems and anything else they decide is important to their work. The remainder will be used to purchase an array of testing equipment which will allow students to accurately monitor a variety of environmental factors and we will be able to use the equipment in other scientific investigations. Winning the state title is an amazing gift from Samsung and it is the students who made it possible for themselves."
They have had challenges but the important thing is, they always work through them. Ms. Stead stated, "Right now, the primary challenge for students is not being in school full time. Toledo Middle School is on a hybrid school week model of part-time in-person and part-time remote learning. This means there is less time for students to work on their hydroponics systems and investigations. As a teacher, my task has been to integrate our curriculum and the hydroponics project to help students make those connections between science content and real-world experiences. There are also the physical challenges of the hydroponic systems: sourcing equipment and materials."
They are being taught very important information, she continued, "I hope that students will learn how to sustainably grow food crops in their home through the cycling of materials. I also want students to have a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing they made a difference in the community through their hard work and perseverance. Maybe someday, somewhere nearby, there will be a glass building growing food year-round, using only water, nutrients, and lights."
Her time with her students also gives her ideas for the future, Ms. Stead continued, "Future plans for the hydroponics project is to have students continue to improve their growing methods while growing foods from September to June each year. Students will be able to conduct investigations using newer technology to collect and analyze data. Fresh vegetables and fruits will continue to go to the community"
No doubt the students will continue to learn and be successful in their endeavor, a great learning experience for every student.