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LED Grow Lights in the Classroom – Cultivating Hands On Learning

During the spring 3 students from Skidmore College, Jenna Frank, Lauren Mamuszka and Eliza Hollister, designed an experiential environmental education for 15 students, ages 10-12, at Saratoga Independent School in Schuylerville, NY. The young students partook in a semester-long project involving two dueling hydroponics stations, the LX60 and a fluorescent grow light. / Guest Blog post by Jenna Frank.

Heliospectra’s LED Grow Lights can be utilized as incredible teaching tools, as they enable interactive, engaging and experiential learning to take place in the classroom. A number of studies have shown the benefits of garden-based curriculum for youth. Evidence suggests that gardening programs change children’s dietary preferences and activity levels, leading to more healthy lifestyles in general. When children experience growing their own food, they become familiarized with fruits and vegetables and are more inclined to try these new foods. As a result of school gardening programs, many students are even inspired to take their new knowledge home and ask for more healthy foods from their parents.

For those of us in temperate climates, the majority of the growing season coincides with summer break for schools. So, how can our students experience the benefit of cultivating their own food during the school year? LED grow lights not only enable year-round garden curriculums to take place but also they add a new dimension to the learning environment, as they are interactive and engaging and allow hands-on experiential learning to take place not only with the foods themselves, but with their energy source!

Our fifteen 10, 11 and 12 year old students had the opportunity to interact with one of these incredible lights in their classroom at Saratoga Independent School in Schuylerville, NY. While we designed our experiential environmental education 10 week curriculum around the use of the LX60 light and emily’s garden hydroponics systems, a single lesson or two would be beneficial to students of any age. Our students partook in a semester-long project and lab involving two dueling hydroponics stations, the LX60 and a fluorescent grow light

Battle of the Brassica: Dueling Hydroponics Project

Getting Started

To start, you’ll have to design a hydroponics system based around how complex you’re willing to get and what kind of access you have to space and funding. Hydroponics is scaleable and affordable, so it’s ideal for classroom use, no matter the space and funding constraints you have. We chose to use Emily’s

Garden hydroponics system, as they are user-friendly and all inclusive. If you want to get more creative and economical, you can design your hydroponics systems using found materials (like pvc pipes or fish tanks, etc) and pick up any parts you don’t have.

The parts you’ll need to build the systems include: a reservoir, a water pump, air stones, plant containers, grow medium (clay pebbles work best), nutrient solution, hydroponic grow cubes, seeds and nutrient solution. Then, you’ll have to choose a ‘dueling’ grow light to compete against the LED LX60. Any similarly sized fluorescent grow light will work. Next, collaborate with your students to decide what vegetables you’ll be growing together. We gave our students viable options (given space and time constraints) and together they chose kale (hence “Battle of the Brassica”), basil, rainbow chard and chives. Fragrant herbs (like basil and chives) and greens (like chard and kale), which colorfully reflect the LX60 light emitted, enable sensorial learning to take place in the classroom.

Setting up the Systems

Once you’ve acquired all of your materials, it’s time to set up the systems with your students! It’s important that your students take part in all aspects of the project (i.e. design, set up, maintenance) to promote a sense of self-efficacy and leadership in them (regardless of age). We found our students incredibly eager to participate in this hands- on learning experience. We split our students into three rotating groups: planting, system set up (hydroponics) and light set up, so they had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of set-up.

Design the Project

Our students partook in a semester long lab project. After learning about the differences in LED and fluorescent lights and how they affect plant growth, our students hypothesized about which light would grow healthier plants. Our students learned how Heliospectra’s LED lights emit different types of wavelengths to target different types of plant growth. They were thrilled to have the opportunity to change the wavelength’s and watch in awe as they made the light’s color change. We collaboratively designed a light schedule to target leafy greens.

Every Monday morning our students made plant growth observations and recorded them in their science journals. At the end of the term, they compiled individual lab reports. Prior to this, your students might require a lesson in qualitative and quantitative observations to lead to a more thorough lab report. Other lesson topics include the electromagnetic spectrum, pH, local organic and conventional food, compost decomposition and food waste, and many others! While we worked with 10-12 year olds, LED lights and hydroponics are adjustable and perfect for any age (primary- university students).

Maintenance

Once the light schedule is set, it requires minimal maintenance! The water and nutrient solution in your hydroponics stations will have to be changed every 1-2 weeks. Design some lessons, set up the systems and LED, and let your students explore!

 

Author: Jenna Frank, guest blogger from Skidmore College