Tech & Engineering Class: Strawberry Towers

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About: I am a teacher outside of Boston and I love making cool stuff! Any prizes I'm lucky enough to win will go directly to my classroom (when appropriate) where I teach 6-12th grade English & Social Studies (...

I frequently teach Technology & Engineering courses for middle and high school students. One of the units for both levels is on building and construction. This year I tied the building and construction unit into our school garden by working with my students to determine what was missing from the garden and how we could utilize the space we have to grow more plants.

What we settled on was building vertical strawberry towers. This activity included technology and engineering, the engineering design process, and research skills. We landed on vertical strawberry towers through group discussion and evaluation of the space we had.

The students then researched different types of strawberries to decide which they wanted to grow, ultimately landing on June-bearing and ever-bearing plants so we’d have strawberries all summer long and hopefully into the fall.

Students had to design their tower, vote on which to build, dimensions for the towers, and determine how many plants we could put in each tower following the square foot gardening method.

Students also had to research the materials and tools we would need to build the towers, as well as develop a budget.

This was a very collaborative group project that had the students engaged in frequent discussions and revisions of their plans.

Eventually we took a local trip to purchase the materials needed and then students sourced the tools we needed from other staff on campus. The towers were built in my classroom.

Applicable Standards:

6.MS-ETS1-5(MA). Create visual representations of solutions to a design problem. Accurately interpret and apply scale and proportion to visual representations.
6.MS-ETS1-6(MA). Communicate a design solution to an intended user, including design features and limitations of the solution.

6.MS-ETS2-2(MA). Given a design task, select appropriate materials based on specific properties needed in the construction of a solution.

6.MS-ETS2-3(MA). Choose and safely use appropriate measuring tools, hand tools, fasteners, and common hand-held power tools used to construct a prototype.

W.6.8. When conducting research, gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.

RI.6.7 Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, maps) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

For this activity I chose 6th grade standards, but it can be modified and applied to any grade level. There are also Speaking and Listening standards that this activity addresses.

Supplies:

Wood boards (we used 2x12 boards, cut into 4ft sections. We bought 3 boards in total. I wanted 1" boards, but we couldn't find the right sizes or prices.)

Screws (long enough to go through whatever width boards you buy)

Drill & bits

Drill hole saw/or woodshop access

Soil

Strawberries (we bought these plugs)

Landscape fabric (optional, we bought untreated wood, so felt this would help with rot)

Staple gun

Shovel

Rulers

Step 1: Wood

We bought our wood at Lowes and had them cut the 12' boards to 4' sections. For two towers we bought 3 boards and had 1 piece left.

My students measured 6-12" sections on the boards and determined were to put the holes (we tried to pick areas with knots so we could remove them).

Then we tried to use a drill hole saw attachment to make the holes, but the wood was too thick and so we ended up sending the wood to our woodshop for the holes to be drilled out.

Step 2: Fabric

Because we bought untreated wood, we decided to cover one side of the boards with landscape fabric. Students measured, cut, and stapled and then cut out the holes.

Step 3: Putting Them Together

The students measured out where they wanted to place the screws to attach the boards. Then they used a drill bit to to pre-drill holes. After that, they worked together to drill in all the screws and attach the boards.

Step 4: Built!

Here are what the towers looked like after all the sides were attached.

Step 5: Outside!

Once the towers were built we went outside to decide where best to place them. We chose off to the side of the garden where there is pretty good light.

Students dug the holes and used bricks to even the bottoms of the holes out. Then we covered the bottom of the towers with landscaping fabric to try and prevent weeds.

The towers were placed in their holes, not directly behind or next to each other, but kind of diagonally and then filled in with soil to steady them.

Step 6: Soil

We made our own version of Mel's mix, it's not 100% perfect. But we used primarily compost, 1/3 of the mix was peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. Mixed it up in a giant trash can with water. One of my students insisted that the soil had to be wet.

Once the soil was ready, we filled in the towers.

Step 7: Strawberries!

We had a couple live plants that my students picked up at our local Earth Day festival, and a 20-pack of plugs I ordered from Amazon. Unfortunately, we took a few days longer than we should have to plant the plugs, so I think I have to order more.

We dug out soil from the holes of the towers and carefully placed a plugs in the holes, spread around the towers. Then put the soil back into the holes to cover up the roots. We didn't do one plug in each hole, because we made a lot of holes and didn't have the right number of plugs.

Step 8: Ta Da!

This project was actually very quick and the kids did a great job! Now to wait for those strawberries to grow!

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    Discussions

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    WeTeachThemSTEM

    18 days ago

    This is awesome! I love when you have a project like this that covers so many standards and gives students an opportunity to build something that will continue to be part of the school landscape for years to come. Thanks for sharing this project and making my teacher heart happy!!! :)