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Desert Research Institute’s GreenPower Program Engages Students with Hydroponics in a Box

June 11, 2013 |

desert research instituteHydroponics, and other sustainable gardening and growing practices, are gradually becoming more widely used in Nevada not only as a result of the arid climate and challenging soil conditions in the area, but also to increase local food production. And the Desert Research Institute (DRI), which is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education and conducts various research projects concerning environmental science every year, wants to ensure that young people on board with the developing industry there.

In fact, there are many hydro-centric businesses emerging in the area, said Amelia Gulling of DRI, who is the administrator for the institute’s GreenPower Program. “And there are going to be some international businesses hopefully coming specifically to Las Vegas to do larger scale hydro-farming,” Gulling said. “And because of that, we want to make sure our future generations can possibly work for and can have an understanding of how hydro works — we want to educate them. They are our future decision makers.”

To promote such education surrounding hydroponics and other environmental science topics, DRI launched its GreenPower Program in 2000 to serve as the institute’s outreach program to get students excited about science. The Institute’s GreenPower Program’s lessons, designed for Nevada teachers and students, don’t rehash the mundane science topics of yesteryear (there are no boring labs in these unit plans.) The Institute’s lessons concern fresh, new topics, such as hydroponics and permaculture. The GreenPower Program also supports professional development for Nevada teachers and provides them with various educational materials, such as the Institute’s Green Boxes.

The Green Boxes teach students in K-12 about interesting, scientific topics, said Gulling, GreenPower Program Administrator. Each Green Box in the outreach program is designed by teachers, for teachers. “We really wanted to give another opportunity for teachers to share with other teachers. It’s just another way to support our educators and our environmental education organizations,” Gulling said.

The Green Boxes contain hands-on activities and curriculum for a unit (one to two weeks) on various environmental topics, such as wind energy and hydroponics.

The hydroponics Green Box is for middle school students, grades 6-8. It was designed by a permaculture education non-profit organization in Reno, Nevada, called Urban Roots. The hydroponics Green Box contains approximately eight different activities that teachers can use in the classroom. The hydroponics Box contains a clearly outlined, educational curriculum, and many hands-on activities concerning hydroponics. “We actually give them all the materials down to cotton balls, glue, and all of that. We have posters in them and workbooks that students can use. The materials in the boxes start a small, hydroponics lab in the classroom,” Gulling said.

The DRI received a request from teachers for the hydroponics kit. The local teachers wanted to teach students about the importance of hydroponics, and also let kids create a hydroponics lab in the classroom. Hydroponics can be somewhat costly, Gulling said. “We try to find a more affordable way to share the opportunity with the larger number of educators.”

The hyrdroponic Green Box also helps teachers teach children how hydroponics can benefit Nevada’s desert-like climate.

Hydroponics relieves some of the stress placed on the water system and other natural resources in the region. “We work closely with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development,” Gulling said. “What we see through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is that there is going to be a larger presence of hydro farms, or aeroponics.”

The state can grow produce steadily by using little resources through using renewable energy, and LED lighting, Gulling said. “There’s also that work toward development, so, we really like to promote things like hydro and renewable energy, things that we know are emerging in Nevada.”

Overall, Nevada students are very enthusiastic about the GreenPower program, Gulling said. “We did one of the units at an elementary school here in Las Vegas. We got to talk with students and work with them and they are just so excited.”

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