National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Aeroponic Engineering and Vertical Farming
6 - 8
2-3 class periods for preparation and construction followed by 3-4 weeks of observation
Students will use the Engineering Design Process to develop and construct an aeroponic garden to grow a food crop. Students will develop and apply an understanding of plant anatomy and physiology related to plant growth and ultimately discuss the possibilities and limitations of using vertical farming to produce our food.
- Farm of the Future video
Activity 1: What do Plants Need?
- Aeroponic Farming PowerPoint
Activity 2: Vertical Garden Engineering Design Challenge
- Aeroponic Farming PowerPoint
- Aeroponic Garden Design Challenge handout, 1 per student -OR- Design notebooks (composition books), 1 per student
- Per group of 3-4 students:
- 5 gallon bucket, with lid
- 5-7 seedling plants (ideally plants that are edible or produce edible fruit)
- 150-300 gph submersible water pump
- 360° shrub sprinkler heads (½", threaded)
- 6" x ½" threaded sprinkler risers
- 5-7 net pots and foam collars (2" or 3")
- Hydroponic nutrient solution
- This can be purchased (we tested General Hydroponics FloraGro) or you can mix your own)
- Grow lights or greenhouse
- Assorted tools
- Drill hole saw (2" or 3" to match net pot size)
- Electrical timer that can be programmed in 30 minute increments
- Extension cords and/or power strip to plug in the pump in each bucket
Optional Activity: Programming Activity
- 6 ft extension cord
- Wall adapter power supply*
- Arduino and breadboard holder*
- Small breadboard*
- Craft knife
- Wire stripper/cutter/crimping tool
- A to MiniB USB cable*
- Solid State Relay*
- Electrical tape or shrink tube
- Sparkfun RedBoard Microcontroller* (or any Arduino Uno device is equivalent)
- Hook-up wire* (black and red, 22 AWG)
- 6 Copper wire ends*
- Jumper wires
- PC or laptop (Windows, Mac OS, Linux)
- Aeroponic Garden Programming Activity instructions
*These items are included in the Arduino Controlled Relay kit, which is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Tips for Classroom Aeroponics
- Optional Programming Activity PowerPoint
- Optional Programming Activity Instructions
- Aeroponic Garden Design Notebook Rubric (Optional Assessment Resource)
- Aeroponic Farming PowerPoint
- Aeroponic Garden Design Challenge handout
- Turning Water into Food Video Guide (Optional Enriching Activity)
aeroponics: a technique for growing plants without soil or sunlight in which the roots of the plant are suspended in the air and misted periodically with nutrient-rich water and light is provided by specialized grow lights
aquaponics: a technique for growing plants without soil or sunlight in which the roots of the plant are suspended in water and waste products of fish and bacteria living in the water provide nutrients for the plants; light is provided by specialized grow lights
carbon dioxide: A gas consisting of one carbon atom bonded to two oxygen atoms; the byproduct of cellular respiration in animal cells and combustion of organic materials essential to the process of photosynthesis in plant cells (carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas)
hydroponics: a technique for growing plants without soil or sunlight in which the roots of the plants are suspended in nutrient-rich water and light is provided by specialized grow lights
photosynthesis: the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide, water, and light energy into sugars and oxygen in order to store energy; the opposite of cell respiration
stomata: small openings in the leaves and stems of plants which can open and close to exchange oxygen and water vapor for carbon dioxide
transpiration: the process by which plants release water vapor back into the atmosphere through their stomata
water cycle: an earth system where water is cycled from the oceans to the atmosphere via evaporation, then it is cycled to the soil via precipitation, and back to the ocean via runoff or when transpiration takes place as plants absorb liquid water from the soil and then release it into the atmosphere via transpiration
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- Agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of freshwater use worldwide, and 80% in the United States.1
- Under optimum conditions, it takes a minimum of 100 gallons of fresh water to grow enough grain to produce one loaf of bread.2
- A diet consisting of 25% animal products more than doubles the amount of land required to feed a single human being.2
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask students where their food comes from. (farms) Follow up by asking them to describe what they think a farm looks like. If needed, provide prompts to lead students to think about the need for open space, availability of water, adequate climate for plant growth, etc. Most likely, students will begin describing a traditional farm with acres of open space.
- Ask students if this type of farm land is abundantly available or if it is limited. (limited and growing more limited as population increases)
- Explain to students that you are going to give them a list of criteria for a "Farm of the Future." Instruct them to think about each criteria as you read it and raise their hand IF they think it can be done.
- The farm can be located in any climate and still produce food year-round.
- The farm can be located in a large, urban city with very little open space.
- No soil is used for plant growth.
- The farm will use 95% less water than a traditional farm.
- Show the video Farm of the Future on the projector or view screen.
- After the video, ask reflection questions such as:
- Do you think farms of the future will shift to this design?
- Do you think it will be feasible to grow ALL types of plants for food in this way? (fruits, vegetables, and grains)
- What kind of benefits and drawbacks to this type of farming could there be?
Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Science and Engineering Practices
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.
Activity 1: What do Plants Need?
- Open the attached Aeroponic Farming PowerPoint presentation on the screen or projector. Use the presentation to guide a discussion on the needs of plants, addressing common misconceptions about what plants really need to survive and grow.
- Take 2 minutes and ask students to use their prior knowledge to list everything plants really need to survive and grow. (Slide 3)
- Before moving to the next slide, ask several students to share at least one item they wrote down.
- Explain that most people probably wrote things like water, soil, air, sunlight, and heat, but there's more to the story. (Slide 4)
- Explain that air, water, and heat are definitely things that plants need. Carbon dioxide is obtained from the air, water is taken up by plant roots, and all plants need to be in a temperature that they have adapted to. Ask students about sunlight and soil—do plants really need these? (Slide 5)
- Explain that plants do not actually need sunlight or soil to thrive. However, plants do need light and nutrients. These can be provided in ways other than traditional soil and sunlight. (Slide 6)
- Describe how plants can be grown without soil in a variety of ways, including hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. Explain a little about what each of these terms mean. Explain that special lights called "grow lights" emit certain colors of light that can be used to provide the optimum light for growing plants indoors. (Slide 7)
- Review the five things that plants need for healthy growth—air, water, heat, nutrients, and light. Explain how each of these essential components for plant life can be provided. (Slide 8)
Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Disciplinary Core Ideas
ETS1.A The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.
Activity 2: Aeroponic Garden Design Challenge
- Once your students have completed Activity 1 and can identify all the factors impacting plant growth, project the Aeroponic Farming PowerPoint beginning with slide 9. Introduce the design challenge by explaining the problem (slide 10) and a possible solution (slide 11). Explain your students' role (slide 12) and the steps they will take for their assignment (slide 13).
- Students will proceed by using the Engineering Design Process to guide their steps in designing their aeroponic garden. Choose one of the following options to guide students through the process. Option 1 is more simple, outlining each step of the process and allowing students to make all of their notes in their handout. Option 2 requires students to create a design notebook and use it throughout the entire process. This option requires more thought and organization, but allows students more creative liberty. Choose the option that fits your class best.
- Option 1: Give each student one copy of the Aeroponic Garden Design Challenge handout. Inform students that they will follow each step precisely and keep all their notes and observations in this handout.
- Option 2: Give each student a design notebook (or use existing notebooks) and explain your expectations using the Aeroponic Garden Design Notebook Rubric found in the Essential Documents section of the lesson. You may also provide a good example of a design notebook for students to model.
- Now that students understand their goal (to create an aeroponic garden) and that they will be keeping all of their notes on their handout (option 1) or in the design notebook (option 2), teach the Engineering Design Process in greater depth.
- Discuss the career of an engineer as well as the process of engineering. Discuss how science and engineering are connected. Referring to the aeroponic garden students will soon be designing, ask, "Could an engineer successfully design an aeroponic garden if he/she did not understand the science of plant growth?" (No, knowledge of both plant science and technology/engineering are required for success.)
- Show the Engineering Design Process video.
- Using the Aeroponic Garden Design Challenge handout, review the entire Engineering Design Process in the context of an aeroponic garden. Inform students they will be following each of these steps shortly. Encourage students to ask questions as you go.
- Divide students into small groups. 3-4 students is ideal, but larger groups may be necessary depending on budget and availability of supplies.
- Assign students to complete steps 1-4 of the design process. To save on materials and cutting mistakes on the buckets, require students to have their plans signed off before they begin construction.
- Once students have their design plans signed off, provide students with the materials and allow them to begin building their prototype. Once students have completed step 5, they should have their bucket constructed, water should be flowing, plants will be in place, and they will have taken all of their beginning measurements and pictures. Remind students of the importance of this step to accurately document the starting point of their aeroponic garden. This step is crucial to accurately evaluate the success of their design.
- The watering system in each bucket will need to be programmed and controlled so that the water is on for 30 minutes and off for 30 minutes. This can be accomplished using an electric timer with 30 minute increments. However, to expose students to computer programming, complete the Optional Programming Activity below to allow students to build and program their own timers.
- Review Tips for Classroom Aeroponics for a list of tips and best practices for success in the classroom.
- Over the next 3 or more weeks, students should monitor their aeroponic gardens. They should add nutrient solution as needed and record regular measurements and observations.
- Once the time period has lapsed, have students complete steps 6 and 7 of the Engineering Design Process on their handout or in their notebook.
- Discuss with students the results and what innovations may have led to the best results. Discuss how the various solutions (including the best solutions) might be improved to result in more plant growth.
- Once optimal conditions have been discussed, return to the original introduction to the problem and ask your students, "Would it be feasible to grow large quantities of food using aeroponics to conserve land and water?"
- Have students turn in their completed handout or their Design Notebook for grading.
Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Crosscutting Concepts
Connections to Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.
Optional Programming Activity (50-60 minutes)
This activity will enable students to program the watering cycle in the aeroponic system they designed in Activity 2. This activity is a great candidate for the "Hour of Code" or other initiatives to expose students to computer programming.
- Give each team one copy of the Aeroponic Garden Programming Activity instructions (or make it available electronically). Explain to students that this activity will help them learn how to program a microcontroller to manage the watering cycle of their vertical garden.
- Pass out the supplies listed in the Materials section of the lesson plan and pictured below. Be advised that students do not actually need the water pump to complete the coding assignment. They should complete the programming and then they can test it with the actual pump later during the design challenge.
- Allow students time to work on the activity, and provide help where needed. If you need additional resources to troubleshoot, check out these resources:
- Some students who have been exposed to coding may finish much earlier than the time allotted. Have these students assist their peers.
- At the end of this activity, students should have produced a program that will enable them to control the water pump in their own vertical garden and set the spray timing and duration.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Plants need air, water, light, and heat to grow. Nutrients can be provided in soil or in the water. Light can be provided by the sun or grow lights.
- Aeroponics is the practice of growing plants suspended in the air and providing nutrients by misting the roots with a nutrient-rich solution.
- Aeroponics uses significantly less water than traditional land-based farming methods. It can also conserve space by utilizing vertical space.
- To conserve water and land, aeroponics can prove to be beneficial for the production of some food crops.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Watch the CBS "Real Food" segment on aeroponics, How Aerofarms' Vertical Farms Grow Produce.
After the lesson, have students think critically about what they have learned about aeroponic farming as they watch the TEDx video Turning Water Into Food. Have students answer the questions on the attached Turning Water into Food Video Guide as they watch the video. After the video, engage in an informal discussion about the following topics:
- Highlight the need for water-conscious agricultural practices and personal habits.
- Discuss what they now know about aeroponic farming technology and ask if this method of farming might be relevant to the concerns brought up in the video.
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of aeroponic farming techniques.
Suggested Companion Resources
- This High-Tech Farm Grows Kale in a Factory (Multimedia)
- Vertical Farming video (Multimedia)
- Vertical Farming video and activities (Multimedia)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe benefits and challenges of using conservation practices for natural resources (e.g., soil, water, and forests), in agricultural systems which impact water, air, and soil quality (T1.6-8.b)
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
- Explain how and why agricultural innovation influenced modern economic systems (T4.6-8.e)
- Provide examples of science and technology used in agricultural systems (e.g., GPS, artificial insemination, biotechnology, soil testing, ethanol production, etc.); explain how they meet our basic needs, and detail their social, economic, and environmental impacts (T4.6-8.i)
Education Content Standards
Plant Science Systems Career Pathway
PS.01.01Determine the influence of environmental factors on plant growth.
PS.03.02Develop and implement a management plan for plant production.
PS.03.04Apply principles and practices of sustainable agriculture to plant production.
MS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-3Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
MS-ETS1 Engineering Design
MS-ETS1-1Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
MS-ETS1-2Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Common Core Connections
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
Writing: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.