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Exploring Hydroponics

Developed through a partnership between National Farm to School Network, Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, and KidsGardening, the Exploring Hydroponics curriculum is available to download at no cost.

This guide includes:

  • basic how-to information for growing plants hydroponically in your classroom;
  • lesson plans to help students learn through hands-on investigations;
  • construction plans for simple hydroponics setups; and
  • additional reference materials to support your endeavors.

Download: Exploring Hydroponics

The lessons are designed to align with third through fifth grade Next Generation Science Standards; however, they can be adapted for both younger and older students and those with different abilities. The lessons are sequenced so that each topic builds upon the previous topics. However, the activities can also be used independently, in any order. Worksheets are available in both English and Spanish.

Hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying all 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. Growing plants hydroponically helps gardeners and farmers grow more food in smaller areas (classrooms, greenhouses, rooftops, and living rooms, for instance) and to produce food in parts of the world where space, good soil, and/or water are limited.

When students grow plants hydroponically, they begin to investigate plant needs through a different lens and have the chance to develop a deep understanding about the conditions required for healthy plant growth and development. Hydroponic gardening also offers the opportunity to explore foundational engineering and design principles. Guiding questions emerge such as: How can we provide support for plants without soil? How do plants grown with just water and nutrients compare with plants grown in soil? How can we get the tallest plants using a hydroponics setup? These questions lead to experimentation and problem-solving in the classroom. Recordkeeping becomes a natural outgrowth of these endeavors. Concepts related to basic plant parts and needs, nutrition, food production, recycling, agricultural technology, and other areas come to life in these soilless growing environments. These studies may even lead to classroom business opportunities or fuel student career interests.

Additional benefits can be realized when edible crops are grown and students experience the joy and excitement of sampling the fruits of their labor! Edible gardening, along with food and agriculture education and local procurement, is one of the core elements of farm to school which enriches the connection students and communities have with fresh, healthful food and local food producers. Lessons in this guide help support integration of these core elements into the classroom and school community.