The AITC Greenhouse Challenge

“Not all learning is confined to the four walls of a classroom,” says Regional Operations Officer (Gold Coast and Redlands) Nathan Reynolds. “This term, our Gold Coast Literacy and Science team leaders combined science understanding and project proposal planning literacy skills into a First Colonies on Mars project. Young people are required to plan, prepare, and construct a geodesic dome designed to house hydroponics to produce food supplies for the first humans on Mars.”

Gold Coast and Redlands young people have been completing all manner of projects under the theme of being the hypothetical first colony on Mars. Redlands campus young people grew radish seeds as part of their Learning From Home curriculum in April, and now Gold Coast students are taking it to the next level, building a model structure where their crops can thrive. For the project, Year 10 young people must imagine they are horticulturists tasked with researching chia seeds as a potential crop for a colony that is to be established on Mars.

The experiment has seen students experimenting with growing the chia seeds into sprouts called microgreens using a hydroponic system. A hydroponic system is a method used to grow plants without soil, instead using only water infused with mineral nutrients. The young people have also been conducting research into how plants adapt and change in different environments, including in space and space-like conditions.

Preparation for the project included watching the movie The Martian and lots of research on Mars’ environment. Mars has an extremely inhospitable environment, including very cold temperatures, less sunshine than Earth, and a very thin atmosphere that does little to trap any heat or prevent the build-up of radiation and carbon dioxide. After discovering this, the young people spent time looking at ways scientists have grown plants in low-gravity environments, such as on the International Space Station.

The young people were given the task of developing a model Martian greenhouse that would enclose the crops and protect them from the inhospitable environment, and the AITC Greenhouse Challenge was born. The challenge was developed to give young people the opportunity to put their learning into practice while also demonstrating employability skills. Each team was supplied with newspaper, masking tape, solar panels, mirrors, an oxygen capturer, water storage, and water recycling mechanism to construct a geodesic dome.

The teams were tasked with creating the dome and explaining how their greenhouse operated and how they would arrange the crops. The project was created to provide young people the opportunity to learn across subject areas through the hands-on experience of taking an idea, designing, developing and prototyping it. Working together in teams, the young people had the opportunity to learn some great life skills including critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

“This project templates understanding through visual experiences as the centre of learning and inquiry,” says Nathan. “Such a project utilises the ‘maker mindset’ that we encourage here at the College. It facilitates the showcasing of constructivism theory into practice”