Teachers use tower gardens to enhance Science lessons

Grade 4 BES student Wyatt McCormick holds the salad made of greens his class grew in the school's new tower gardens.

In the dead of winter, Grade 4 students at École Barrhead Elementary School dined on salads made of greens they harvested from their new tower gardens. For some students it was the first time eating food they had grown themselves, said teacher Cindy Sanford-Hoy. “A student told me, ‘I’ve never eaten my own food before; it’s always come from the grocery store’.”

Installed in October, in the open space outside the Grade 4 classrooms, the tower gardens are six-foot tubes. They have no soil. Nutrient-enriched water flows through the plants’ roots.  

The indoor gardens extend the growing season enabling teachers to work on plant growth and change Science units through the year, says Grade 4 teacher Blair Michaud. “The tower gardens are also an innovative way of growing plants. More people are producing their own food without soil; we are introducing students to a new way of growing food,” said Sanford-Hoy.

The students’ next crop, planted in late January, will include lettuce, cucumbers, basil and peppers. The students tend the gardens from start to finish, planting seedlings, topping up the water reservoir, adding nutrients to the water and monitoring the water’s PH level weekly.

The students also have traditional gardens, planting seeds in soil and nurturing them under heat lamps. The teachers asks the students to compare the plants grown in different environments. “We talk about what’s the same and what’s different between the plants grown in soil and plants grown in the tower gardens,” said Michaud.

Beyond the Math and Science that students are learning, Sanford-Hoy says one of the biggest impacts of the tower gardens is that they build community and bring beauty to the Grade 4 pod. “The greenery and the sound of the water draw people to the gardens. Students stop and look at the gardens; our special needs students are fascinated by them. The gardens belong to everyone and the students take care of them,” said Sanford-Hoy.

Down the road, Sanford-Hoy dreams of producing enough lettuce to supply the school’s daily lunch program. Michaud sees a day when each student takes care of one plant. “It would be neat to eventually have each student nurture their little lettuce plant.”

École Westlock Elementary School also installed three tower gardens at the beginning of the school year. Two are in the Grade 4 classrooms and one is in the Kindergarten room. As well as providing produce (lettuce, basil, chives, tomatoes,and cucumbers), the tower gardens align well with the Grade 4 Plant curriculum and have enhanced learning, says principal Pierre Ouimet. "We have had some challenges to overcome with the hardness of our water and humidity control but overall the tower garden project has been excellent and has added value to the classroom."

A focus on plants and growing fits for Pembina Hills Public Schools, says Sanford-Hoy. “I am a farmer too. I think agriculture is important. We are in rural Alberta; let’s bring it to life in our classrooms.”  

  

Grade 4 BES student Noah Fisher plants a lettuce seedling in the school's tower garden.

Published Feb 2, 2017