Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Spain Park teacher Amanda Lewis explains an aeroponics growing tower and its uses to her students.
Environmental science students at Spain Park High School will have an innovative way to explore the importance of proper eating beginning this fall.
Thanks to a $1,970 grant from the Hoover City Schools Foundation, teachers Amber Lewis and Jean Gillespie will show their students how to grow plants using an aeroponic tower garden.
Aeroponics involves placing plant seedlings in a container without dirt, using equipment that sprays water and nutrients on them to stimulate growth.
The project, called “Environmental Science vs. Human Anatomy: Game On,” involves installing an aeroponic tower garden in two classrooms, allowing environmental science students to study nutrient recycling, limits to resources for food production and methods for improving resources.
The goal, Lewis said, is to teach anatomy students about nutrients and the role of wise food choices in the body’s growth.
Lewis, who has been teaching anatomy and physiology at Spain Park High since the school opened in 2001, said the idea for the project was sparked from a family trip she took to Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando several years ago. She was fascinated by an aeroponic system used at Epcot to grow fruits and vegetables served in some of the park’s restaurants.
“My wheels started turning on how to utilize this in school,” Lewis said. “Aeroponics uses no medium to grow plants - no dirt, no water. The way it works is a vertical growth system. Water and nutrients plants would need are pumped up and misted down onto the plants.”
Lewis teamed with fellow teacher Gillespie and filled out an application with the Hoover City Schools Foundation. Lewis said getting the grant from the Foundation is “a big deal.”
“This is not something either of us would have pursued because of the cost,” Lewis said. “It was $2,000 and something we could not take a chance on. It is a little bit outside the box, but the potential there is enormous. It’s pretty cool, and I’m hoping two or three years down the road we’ve really evolved this project into something even more awesome.”
Each aeroponic tower can house 28 plants. Lewis said the students will get to choose the type of plants to grow, but added they must pick something with nutrients useful to the body, such as spinach, lettuce or tomatoes. Lewis said she and Gillespie hope the project inspires the students to make healthy food choices.
“I want them to learn what it is their body needs and why important eating habits are beneficial and where to find those foods,” Lewis said. “I was thinking we could do something where kids research the nutrients your body needs and research what plants would contain those.”
Since this is the first time a project like this has been done at Spain Park, it will be “trial and error,” she said.
Lewis has high hopes for the project as years go by. Eventually, a foreign language component can be added exploring the healthiness of foods grown overseas, Lewis said. The law academy can examine lawsuits surrounding environmental issues, while the health academy and anatomy class can use the project to learn more about nutrition awareness.
“I am hoping to give them a bit more in-depth information – not just the impact not eating well does to their body but what is in the foods we eat,” Lewis said. “Kids don’t realize how many calories they are eating in their chips and dip. You look at what is contained in spinach: you have zinc, iron, vitamins A and C, potassium. It’s important for kids to know the importance of making wise choices in what they eat and where to find them.”
Lewis said the students will take photos and document growth of the plants throughout the process. Students in the health, law and engineering academies will be able to learn from it as well, she said. “Engineering students may come in and come up with new ideas to improve growth,” Lewis said.