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Discovering Through Hydroponics

The Discovering Hydroponics cover, which has the words "Discovering Hydroponics" and a large water droplet with a magnifying glass and tiny plant. The logos for KidsGardening, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, and National Farm to School Network are on the bottom.

KidsGardening is excited to share Discovering Through Hydroponics, a lesson and resource guide for K-2nd grade educators. Developed in partnership with The National Farm to School Network and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation as part of the GroMoreGood Discovering Through Hydroponics Project, the guide inspires educators to explore plant basics through hydroponic gardening systems.

The options for incorporating gardens into classrooms and other educational settings are as numerous as the many benefits they provide. Most early elementary plant lessons for young children focus on how plants grow in nature and/or traditional agriculture systems where soil provides support and fulfills plants’ need for nutrients and water. But do plants need soil to grow and thrive? The answer is no. Is this a fact that may have significant meaning for people? Yes!

Hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply rather than through the soil. The word derives from the Greek root words “hydro,” meaning water, and “ponics,” meaning working.

Cultivating and observing plants in hydroponic systems with young children (rather than exclusively through more traditional soil-based methods) allows them to understand plant needs at a deeper level. They discover the amazing skill of our green friends to adapt to different growing conditions. Their curiosity is sparked as they are challenged to design growing systems that seek to use resources efficiently and provide locally grown food even when existing environmental conditions do not support traditional growing methods. They are engaged in science, technology, engineering, and math through the practical lens of fulfilling the essential job of growing food. As an added bonus, edible hydroponic gardens offer opportunities for students to experience the joy and excitement of sampling the fruits of their labor!

The Discovering Through Hydroponics guide is designed to facilitate teaching plant fundamentals to young students using the engaging, hands-on tool of a hydroponic garden. In doing so, there is no value being assigned to imply one type of growing method (hydroponic vs. soil-based) is ultimately better than the other but rather the lessons hope to engage students in the process of evaluating the pros and cons of different growing systems and the importance of thinking outside the box when looking to secure a sustainable food system. The goal is to convey that the mission to find ways to grow food most efficiently in terms of natural resources and space available — while also providing access to bountiful, healthy fresh foods to all people, regardless of where they live — is absolutely critical for our society.

The lessons are designed to provide real world and practical experiences while also encouraging student-led discovery, through hands-on and inquiry-driven exploration opportunities. Through modeling, students will gain a foundation of knowledge to help them develop their own questions, deepen their understanding, and begin to contemplate solutions to the present-day challenges of our food system. Although not a Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) curriculum, the concepts presented and activities suggested in Discovering Through Hydroponics are designed to help inspire educators working within the NGSS framework. The lessons are developed around the following guiding questions:

Lesson 1 - Plant Needs

  • What do plants need to live and grow?
  • What resources are available to help plants meet their needs?

Lesson 2 - Plant Parts

  • What are the basic parts of a plant?
  • What is the function of each plant part?

Lesson 3 - Plant Life Cycle

  • What are the stages of a plant’s life cycle?
  • How do plant needs and plant parts change in each stage of a plant’s life cycle?

Lesson 4 - Farm (& Garden) to Table

  • Why are plants important to people?
  • Where does our food come from?
  • Who is involved along the path that our food travels from field to table?

Lesson 5 - Farms of the Future

  • What are some of the challenges facing farmers today?
  • How might hydroponic growing methods help support our food system?

Download Discovering Hydroponics to get started with your hydroponic gardening adventure!