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Project Based Learning through Hydroponic Micro Farming with Plastic Water Bottles and Classroom Pets

Two design thinkers aim to improve learning outcomes through project based micro farming and class pet curriculum in Zaatari Refugee Camp.

Photo of Kimberly Gottschild
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Project based learning through hydroponic microfarming and classroom pets addresses educational accessibility and standards, psychosocial needs, gender equality, food security, and family relief. Project based learning makes educational content engaging and relevant to students at any level. Working in cohorts, tending plants, and caring for animals all address psychosocial needs. Microfarming and classroom pet curriculum is gender neutral and can also provide addtional means for procuring food.

Explain your innovation.

Through project based learning, the students would be taught how to build and cultivate a hydroponic micro farm, including small animals, at their school site. The micro farms would be built using recycled 1.5 liter water bottles, growth fertilizer, seeds, and plastic tubing. No expensive materials or supplies are necessary, especially considering there is an abundance of empty water bottles throughout the refugee camp that would otherwise go to waste. Students would work collaboratively in cohorts to learn and practice the entire lifecycle of creating, maintaining, and harvesting a micro farm and caring for animals, such as rabbits and chickens. The comprehensive curriculum would support the whole child by addressing educational standards, accessibility through homogeneous ability cohorts rather than grade level, teaching life skills through problem solving and working towards a common goal, and psychosocial needs by addressing boredom, isolation, and emotional expression, just to name a few.

Who benefits?

Several stakeholders would benefit from Project Based Learning through Micro Farming. Young children and youth ages 5-18, their families, and community members would benefit from this project. Children would benefit from the curriculum, interaction with their cohort, caring for plants, engaging with animals, routine, and structure. A typical student would be a child who loves to learn, misses home, and needs an outlet to heal while learning life skills. Families would benefit through their children receiving life skills that can be used at home. Families members could also become a sustaining force by volunteering their expertise within the school. Community members with farming or gardening experience may become involved as volunteers or employed. They could become tutor to the cohorts and help provide a smaller adult to child ratio. Success will be measured by conducting pre- and post-surveys to measure the growth in meeting educational standards, and supporting psychosocial needs.

How is your innovation unique?

Our innovation is unique in that it is comprehensive, addressing multiple needs simultaneously. Our unique advantage is that we are design researchers and strategists. We know how to embrace ambiguity and create something new from the unknown. We are skilled in engaging people in creating systemic change with and for the people, from a place of empathy and equality. Other organizations, such as Tumaini International in Kenya use farming to educate children and youth. There are also other initiatives to provide animal therapy to refugee children in Iraq and gardening programs, such as hydroponic farming, in Jordan. Our innovation is a combination of these initiatives in form of a comprehensive project based curriculum.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We wonder if it would be possible to partner with Heifer International to provide livestock to schools as well as Thinx to provide period-proof underwear for girls to attend school in confidence during their cycle. Areas of expertise that would be necessary in this project would be veterinary medicine, hydroponic farming and ecosystems, and local educational experts. How accessible would people with these skills be? Are there people in the community willing to participate and share their knowledge and time?

Tell us more about you.

We are Stephany Stamatis and Kim Gottschild, two Design Thinking graduate students who are former professionals in Urban Planning and Education, respectively. We believe that innovative opportunities exist where there is conflict between the current and ideal states. Always striving to create a more preferred state, we are excited and optimistic about leveraging design thinking and human centered design methods to be agents of change in our world.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Our primary focus is refugee camps in Jordan, as “close to one in three—226,000 out of 660,000—Syrians registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan are school-aged children between 5-17 years old.” ( Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan is our specific focus for our implementation. As the largest refugee camp, it contains nine schools.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

We believe that our biggest impact would be in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. There are nine schools, at one of which “classes run for 35 minutes, with no breaks in between, no recess, no time to eat, and no access to computer facilities.” We believe our innovation could address these issues to foster a more child friendly environment. This solution could be tailored to be effective in other locations. The supplies and materials required for micro farming are generally widely available.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • No, not yet.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Kim has 22 years of experience in the education sector as a teacher. Stephany has 10 years of experience in the sectors of community engagement and sustainable built environments. We have one year design thinking and design research experience and have worked with a non-profit organization to develop a strategic planning document for the organization's continued sustainability and growth as well as an interprofessional organization to address the opioid epidemic in Indiana.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are not registered but plan to in the future.

Organization Location

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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