Indoor gardening lessons developed by Boston College researchers fuel scientific interests

Hands-on science classes in a greenhouse can grow more than just fruits and vegetables. They’re also fueling a love of science among young people from student populations long underrepresented in science, according to a new report from researchers at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

Elementary students—primarily African-American, Hispanic, and English language learners—developed positive attitudes toward science, less anxiety, and greater self-confidence after participating in an after-school program where they cultivated fruits and vegetables using soilless, hydroponic methods, report researchers in the current edition of the Journal of Science Education and Technology.

“Involving young people in learning how to grow and care for their plants is both a way to spark interest and curiosity in science and provides after-school instructors with an easy way to help their students learn science,” said Lynch School of Education Professor of Science Education Michael Barnett, the project leader.

“Most after-school instructors have little background in science, so it’s important to design programs that not only support student learning, but are also easy for instructors to implement and support. student learning in scientific processes,” added Barnett, who co-authored the report with doctoral student Amie Patchen and former doctoral student Lin Zhang, now an assistant professor of education at Providence College.

The study of 234 Boston-area college students who participated in the program at three sites showed decreased anxiety and increased interest in both boys and girls, according to the study “Growing Plants and Scientists : Fostering Positive Attitudes into Science among All Participants in an Afterschool Hydroponics Programme.”

Self-confidence among science students increased among girls at all three sites, but did not change significantly among boys.

The researchers found that a student’s first language, whether English or Spanish, was not a factor in attitude change.

“It was rather surprising in that the program was not particularly designed to engage non-native English speakers,” Barnett said. “We believe that by redesigning the material with non-native English speakers as part of the program design, we will better support these learners.”

The results suggest that hydroponics “can be a useful educational platform for engaging participants in year-round garden-based programs, especially for environments that do not have the physical space or climate for gardening outdoors,” according to the study.

Because the format and implementation of the program and the backgrounds of the instructors varied across the three locations, the positive results show that the program lends itself to replication in a range of settings.

“The basic version of our hydroponics program could be easily and successfully implemented by teachers and settings,” Barnett said. “This is a very exciting finding as it suggests that the hydroponics curriculum can be adapted to a number of settings where teachers have little science or teaching experience.

The researchers say their next step is to examine which specific aspects of the program led to positive changes in students’ attitudes towards science.

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