What Happens When You Put ZipGrow in a 3rd Grade Classroom?

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being surprised with a sudden string of children’s cheery testimonials of their classroom ZipGrow tower over the phone. The call started off like a normal educator followup. I spent some time chatting with Hanna Elementarys amazing Mrs. Cathy McAtee, the focus of todays Educator Spotlight, about her classroom Spring System.

Then, all of the sudden, I heard a young girls voice on the other end of the phone tell me about why she loves to grow plants in the Spring System (a small vertical hydroponic system), followed by a continuous string of testimonials from her classmates as they passed the phone off to each other one-by-one.

After about three minutes of little voices, Cathy got back on the phone to tell me that that was entirely unprompted. I was reminded of how rewarding and inspiring it is to work with children.

Great experiences stem from great educators.

It takes a special type of educator to foster that level of enthusiasm, and Mrs. Cathy McAtee is a great example of this.

I asked Cathy to share with me a little bit about herself, her philosophy, and her class; her responses were absolutely inspiring.

Who is Mrs. Cathy McAtee?

Mrs. McAtee graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1981, and IMG_1529received her Masters degree from Western Governors University in 2001. Throughout her career, she has taught all grades and disciplines from K-12 in Carbon County School District #2, and is now teaching elementary school in Hanna, WY. She is a very active member of her community both inside and outside of the school.

It is apparent to me that her years of experience and unique outlook on the classroom, are the foundation behind her incredible teaching philosophy- one which has led to great results in teaching her class the new and exciting world of classroom hydroponics.

Creating an insatiable thirst for life-long learning

Mrs. McAtee goes beyond the basics that are to be taught at each educational level. She, and her students, go the distance when it comes to the classroom experience, which is part of what makes her class the perfect atmosphere for implementing innovative methods for growing produce in a sustainable fashion (i.e. hydroponics).

My teaching philosophy is to create an insatiable thirst for life-long learning, assisting my students through a focus towards any possibility of learning. The teacher must encourage each child to envision the possibility of their own greatness and ignite a fire for learning through a lifelong, quality education.

Providing an individualized experience

I focus on who is in my classroom, she says, providing an environment that works to promote the development of the whole child.

For Cathy, this means that her instruction is differentiated to address the needs of each individual child, making sure that each child is challenged academically and successfully at the same time.

In my discussions with her, and her students, it is clear that each student feels a clear sense of individuality and identity in her classroom, and each student has had a unique and very personal experience with the classroom hydroponic garden. This is apparent in this slideshow from Cathy.

New experiences welcome opportunities for success.

Cathy believes that the classroom should encourage children to take chances and tackle new concepts, like hydroponics.

Looking for misconceptions in the understanding is important, but also the efficacy of the strategies in which students solve problems is equally important. The classroom should allow for mistakes and celebrate efforts in clarifying the misconception, says Cathy, we need to periodically place our students in a state of disequilibrium when exploring concepts.

When Cathy first heard about the grant which ultimately allowed her to obtain the Spring System hydroponic vertical planter, neither she nor her class had any former knowledge of the system or the concept of vertical hydroponics.

FullSizeRender - Copy (2)However, she had an appreciation for fresh produce and knew that this might be a new avenue for providing produce to the school salad bar, which up to this point had been done with the student and teacher-run seasonal greenhouse. And according to her, well, the rest is history. Our planter is up and producing strawberries as I write.

Cathy even put herself in a state of disequilibrium while taking on this project.

This just goes to show that Cathy really follows through with her philosophy, both personally and with her students, as she willingly entered into this journey of classroom hydroponics enthusiastically, embracing the possibility of confusion and failure, knowing that this is what could very well lead to the most fulfilling learning her classroom had seen yet.

And this is exactly what I have witnessed in the joyful outcries of her students.

Trial and error foster innovative solutions from young minds.

Cathys students excitement did not come without moments of confusion and challenge.

Cathys class decided they would grow strawberries and cherry tomatoes for the school salad bar. But her students quickly realized the challenges associated with growing larger statured and heavier plants vertically, as weight and stem length can lead to saggy plants. But, they faced this challenge head on, abiding by Cathys belief that:

Confusion is part of learning and realizing that not all children learn at the same rate is necessary. The classroom allows students to make errors and that their learning will be supported in a safe and nurturing environment. Lastly, students quickly discover that there are numerous paths to arriving at the solution.

Seeing her philosophy through, after a bit of confusion, the class brainstormed, and did a little research to find that the best solution was the use of a small fan to provide a light breeze on the stems of the plants, strengthening and shortening them.

Long-lasting payoffs

Now, Cathys class has strawberries growing rapidly, and the students FullSizeRender (1) - Copyare more enthusiastic about learning the processes behind hydroponics and plant growth than ever! In fact, just a few days ago, one of her students answered the phone and was overjoyed to tell me that they had four more strawberries growing and had already gotten to eat two!

Its this type of enthusiasm that can be seen in the wonderful slideshow you saw above.

This enthusiasm, along with her students’ progress in learning about the science of hydroponics while continuing to grow produce inside in a very small space year-round is what Cathy finds to be her greatest success of this project so far.

After that adorable phone call, Mrs. McAtee graciously provided us with a wonderful presentation of pictures and testimonials from her students. It doesn’t get any more real than this! If youve been on the fence about whether or not this is something your students will enjoy, Cathy would like you to know that:

This project is amazing. It won’t take up a great deal of room and the students get to see their garden grow everyday. It was easy to set up and basically runs itself. Plant, wait and harvest!!!

Enthusiasm. A hunger to learn. This is what happens when you put ZipGrow in a 3rd grade classroom.

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