In December, West Nodaway ag students designed and constructed individual hydroponic tables.

Students were placed into groups of two and given the task of designing and constructing their own usable system using everyday materials.

This is the second year ag teacher Nicki Honan has implemented the unit. The hands-on design project challenges students to utilize critical thinking and design and problem solving skills.

Students began by researching various types and styles of hydroponic systems and analyzing each system’s pros and cons before ultimately choosing the system they thought would work best.

Maddy Walker and Nataleigh Ecker chose a self-contained system using a plastic tote requiring that they add oxygen and artificial nutrients to the water.

Siblings Hope and Parker Ogle chose to insert their seed cups into a piece of styrofoam, allowing them to float in the classroom’s fish tank, soaking up natural nutrients in the water left by fish waste.

“I love it, learning about the different types of hydroponic systems and growing plants without soil,” Hope said.

The spinach plants the students are growing were placed inside a rockwood cube surrounded by hydroton balls for support. The cube allows the plants to grow without the use of soil.

The students check nutrient and pH levels daily, adding nutrients to the water as needed. They plan to eat their spinach in a few weeks when it matures. The students are learning about related topics such as dissolving oxygen, conductivity, salt quantities and more.

“I think it’s really cool,” Walker said.

This is the first year Honan’s class has used the fish tank. In June, the tank was filled with 58 tilapia fish. The class hopes to harvest the fish at the end of the school year and host a fish fry for ag students.

“It will be interesting to see which does better, the one with artificial nutrients or the one with natural nutrients,” Honan said. “The kids are excited to come in each day. It engages them in the learning process without them knowing it. It’s one of the more fun projects we do.”