Central Middle students in the know on how to grow

David Broyles

May 13, 2014

DOBSON — Central Middle students have put the stem in STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with their Project Based Learning (PBL) experiments with plants.

One visible sign this has taken root throughout the school is the window garden of cucumbers climbing on the teachers’ lounge window blinds.

Green Hornet Club Sponsor Sherry Turner confirmed students have shown a lot of enthusiasm which can be easily seen throughout the school, from numerous window and container gardens to a large hydroponic growth system made from PVC pipes which quietly cycles water like a zen fountain, churning out new heads of lettuce from cafeteria leftovers.

Turner said she has concentrated on helping students with their research after they were challenged to create their own growing systems from recyclable items found in their homes. She credits Club Advisor Brandi Joyce as the “brains” behind coaching the children in their projects.

“The kids told me they were interested in learning about growing things,” said Joyce. “We decided to challenge them to make their solutions to growing food year round, using recycled materials, things at home they might normally throw away.” The two said every class in the school has had PBL experiments relating to growing food year round. They said another benefit of this project has been to teach students a skill they can use for the rest of their life.

Joyce said vegetables grown at the school will supplement the nutritional program and children’s backpack program. The school currently boasts window gardens, numerous hydroponic systems, a straw bale garden, raised vegetable beds and plan on establishing pallet gardens and look to have two expandable potato growing boxes in use.

Students also appear comfortable discussing any and all of the growing projects at the school as well as their own projects. Seventh grader Brody Johnson designed a system where water drips down through a series of planters with any excess collected in its base for use again.

Johnson said his original prototype was top heavy, so he had to add weight to the base (gravel) with counterweights up higher on the planter mounting post. He said the idea for the system “just came to him.” Classmates Matthew White and Jesus Lovaton’s problem solving skills yielded a system where a small pump circulates the nutrient enriched water to the planters to form a closed system. The two said problems they had to solve were the correct length for the hoses and some leaks which sprang up on the first try.

Dawson Shropshire, who also heads up the school’s straw bale gardens, decided to act on information cucumbers grew better with more oxygen and used an air pump and aquarium air stone to use the bubbles to circulate the water around his plants for his hydroponics garden. He said he simply wanted a solution to “just letting the water sit.” Shropshire is in charge of the school’s straw bale gardens and can tell you the entire process which turns the center of the bales into compost, ready for planting with some potting soil added. He said one great thing about this method is no waste. The entire garden can be shredded and worked into the soil at the end of the year.

Seventh grader Ryan Martin, who will become the school wide manager of the school hydroponics system next year, partnered with Daniel Layne to make a working tabletop system based on the larger hydroponic system. They quickly found out growing medium had to act as a plug as well when they fired up their system and sprays of water gushed out.

David Meyer’s research led him in the direction of an aquaponic system, (where the nutrient cycle involves fish supplying fertilizer.) He said he quickly found out the system needed more air, which was remedied by an aerator, and using smaller goldfish. He successfully grew snap peas with his system.

The effort shows no signs of slowing down as teachers and students exchange ideas on other experiments. Turner and Joyce say they enjoy students bringing in random items which they lay out on a table before figuring out how to piece them together to grow something.

“They’ve come up with better solutions they than found online,” said Joyce. “It’s not often teachers don’t hear students ask how they will use this later in life. I haven’t had one comment from them like that.”

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.