Students have created a vertical hydroponic community garden in the back of our science lab. This farm is used to learn about the structure and function of plants as well as the footprint of growing various species of vegetables. Students create and code various sensor/actuator systems using Raspberry Pi and Arduino. These are used to collect data related to plant health, monitor resource consumption, and adjust system parameters to help maximize crop yield. Data is shared with both national and international lab partners to help better understand the future of growing food. Harvests have been used in farm to table celebrations within the building as well as donations to local food pantries.
As a Raspberry Pi certified educator, an emphasis has been made to bringing physical computing into the science lab. Students are encouraged to build and code sensors that allow them to collect and analyze data in the science lab. Projects range from using ultrasonic sensors to measure the volume of liquids in a reservoir to using humidity sensors to monitor the exhalation of water vapor before and after exercise. Design teams also develop actuator systems that make use of RF transmitters and wired relays to control electrical components associated with our vertical hydroponics farm. Many of these projects also foster the creative visualization of data. The artistic channels of the student mind have been tapped into as they code sensors to sing the C scale as they approach a target or conditionally change the colors of Neopixel strips to map the ambient temperature of the classroom throughout the school day.
It is no secret that the landscape of the coding and engineering world does not properly reflect the diversity of society. It is a top priority of our program to help foster an enthusiasm in young ladies for coding and engineering. To this end, we hold regular meetings of our high school and middle school coding clubs that place a special emphasis on girls who code. These sessions are a peer driven effort to help build a strong community of female students that support each other’s pursuit of computer science, engineering, and other STEM related endeavors. Each meeting is highlighted by a successful female professional from the STEM community that comes in to speak to our students and helps inspire them to find avenues for themselves.
Student engineers have been assigned to teams charged with the responsibility of monitoring, analyzing, and controlling variables within our vertical Mars Farm. Raspberry Pi and Arduino micro controllers are used as they wire sensors and write code to help understand the world of smart innovation and IoT. To date, our students have accounted for ambient temperature, humidity, air pressure, carbon dioxide concentration, light intensity, water temperature, pH, nutrient levels (EC), water levels, moisture content of growing medium, biomass, and energy consumption in kWh.
Remote monitoring of these variables has been achieved through the integration of the MyDevices Cayenne IoT dashboard. Automated responses have been achieved using RF transmitters that control remote outlets, wired relays that trigger cooling fans and water pumps, peristaltic dosing pumps that administer pH and nutrient adjustment solutions, and 3D printed sensor mounts that are moved with servo and stepper motors.
Students are currently working on voice and vision recognition APIs to allow a more immersive user interface between farmers and their gardens.
The classroom is being transformed to reflect a more constructionist approach to education. Students spend less time in their desks and more time finding alternative methods of demonstrating their knowledge of the content. Digital badges are issued and stocked with metadata and evidence of their newfound skill sets. Traditional quizzes and tests are replaced with project-based learning that dives into green screen production, stop animation, coding, CAD design, and augmented reality.
in 2018 West Hollow became the first US school to sign the UNFCCC Climate Neutral Now Pledge. This three step process involved calculating our CO2 emissions related to our energy usage and travel, taking steps to become more sustainable, and purchasing offset credits to become carbon neutral. Our local efforts included installing water bottle filling stations and selling reusable bottles to help raise funds for our offset credits. We have also launched paper and plastic bottle recycling programs in the building.
Our students are currently working alongside schools in the UK, Finland, and New Zealand to help design a comprehensive plan to reduce plastics and create an action plan for school-aged children to lead more sustainable lives. These efforts are being shared on social media as well as FlipGrid.
West Hollow students have lab partners on four continents with whom they collaborate and share data in hopes of better understanding how different cultures approach the challenges facing populations in various parts of the world. Students use Mandarin and Spanish to communicate with one another over FlipGrid and often share in each other’s cross cultural celebrations. Most recently, we harvested a crop of bok choi and other Asian vegetables from our Mars Farm to celebrate Chinese New Year in their Mandarin classes. Data collected from the growth of these hydroponic crops has been shared with schools in Finland that are also experimenting with this form of alternative agriculture.
We are also collaborating with schools in Wales to help implement a school-wide anti-plastics campaign as part of Earth Day. Data collected from a beach cleanup will be shared and compared against those in other parts of Europe and Mexico as well.
As part of a grant from the American Libraries Association, West Hollow students took part in an evening of coding and problem solving in our first annual “Code with Your Kids". Students, parents, and siblings worked as collaborative teams to construct simple input/output systems and wrote basic code in C++ to meet challenge criteria. The next iteration of the project will involve Raspberry Pi and the python coding language.
Students spent time during their lunch periods in West Hollow’s maker space assembling the various systems that comprise our FarmBot. This CNC farming robot is in charge of maintaining a raised bed community garden in the atrium of our school. This nearly 100 square foot garden is seeded, watered, weeded, and monitored by coding sequences written by student engineers. In addition to allowing our students to engage in problem solving and computational thinking, the produce that is harvested from this garden throughout the school year will be donated to Island Harvest food bank in an attempt to reach out to community members struggling with food insecurity.
Our classroom is currently working with a number of research partners as part of a greater citizen science campaign. Our vertical hydroponics farm has been crafted after models and data collection methods developed by researchers at Princeton University. Data related to water and energy consumption are being compared to the grams of yield for various species of vegetables.
We have also become a part of a joint Fairchild Botanical Gardens and NASA project in which we monitor the success of various candidates of vegetables to be grown on the International Space Station. Students make weekly observations related to general plant health and crop yield for plants being grown in an experimental growing medium that minimizes the water needs as these plants mature in the system.