LCVI’s grade nine SPAR-Tech students are currently using Tower Gardens to explore different branches of learning such as gardening, charitable organization outreach, and communications work.

The Tower Garden is a vertical garden that can be used to grow a variety of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and some fruits. The tower was designed to save space and conserve water, yet still yield an abundance of healthy produce. Seeds or saplings are planted in the seed holes, and water full of a special nutrient mixture is added into the water reservoir. A pump distributes the water to the top of the tower and trickles down to reach all of the seeds. The Tower Garden requires little maintenance and can grow up to 20 different plants at one time. If outdoor space is non-existent, it can even be used indoors with a grow light.

LCVI’s SPAR-Tech program – a curriculum dedicated to problem-based learning including technology – received a program enhancement grant from TLDSB to experiment with Tower Garden products. The project makes further use of LCVI’s greenhouse and enhances students’ learning experiences. The school has purchased 10 Tower Gardens and plans to have their first harvest before the winter holidays.

“This all started when tech leaders from businesses such as Apple got together and identified that 21st century learners need to be problem solvers, collaborators, good communicators, inquisitive, and critical thinkers,” said Chris Schweitzer, LCVI Principal. “What we do in the SPAR-Tech program is put those things in place as the corner stones of instruction. That’s why you don’t have the traditional teacher in front of the class giving them the information. Instead, the students are out acquiring the information through research – which is where the technology comes in. The teacher is the facilitator and guides the learning, but the students take responsibility for the learning through one another as a collaborative group.”

Participating grade nine students have been split into three different departments: the tech team, the growing team, and the communications team. Each department has their own job and they work together to achieve their goals.

“The tech team is doing an excellent job measuring and formatting the greenhouse, making sure all of the gardens are fitted into the allotted space. The growing team has done a lot of research on how to properly use the Tower Gardens and the science behind them. The communications team is getting in touch with other organizations and letting the community know of our plans,” said Schweitzer.

The team is considering donating the fresh food to the food banks or selling produce at the Farmer’s Market as a school fundraiser. It could also be donated for breakfasts and snacks to other TLDSB elementary schools in the area.

“This experience bonds the community and the school itself,” commented Alex, SPAR-Tech student. “It enhances the SPAR-Tech program. We are building Tower Gardens to grow food, which we can donate to humanitarian organizations as well as feed the community.”

The unique project is also creating more interest within the SPAR-Tech community. Most of the grade nine class is participating in the voluntary extension, possibly because it is inclusive and hands-on. With problem-based learning, students are able to solve real-world problems and work in groups rather than depending solely on lessons in a classroom environment. Regular course checkpoints are a part of the program, such as tests, however most of the class time is group-based.

“Problem-based learning is essentially taking the knowledge from our day-to-day learning in a classroom and applying it to real-world issues to try and help alleviate some of them in Lindsay, and at a larger-scale eventually,” said Mary, another SPAR-Tech student.

Thus far, students are covering the curriculum faster for this project faster than other projects they’ve been working on.

“We’ve never ever moved this fast through an academic class before,” said Mary. “It’s all about linking to the community as well as within the classroom. It’s more than just learning from chrome books and learning in different ways. You can take this new information and apply it to the real world.”

Students involved in the project are hoping to help needy families in the community and better understand the science behind the hydroponic system. The communications team will be presenting the benefits of problem-based learning combined with one-to-one technology to board trustees at a February board meeting.

To learn more about Tower Gardens, please visit www.towergarden.ca.