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The Greenhouse Project consists of the design and construction of a greenhouse for Plymouth Regional High School. The students will be taking charge of all facets of the project, including needs assessment, building design, fund raising, project presentation and construction. It will be a multi-disciplinary task joining freshmen physical science students and junior and senior vocational building trades students. The stages up through project presentation will take approximately six to eight weeks in the spring. Actual construction of the greenhouse will be accomplished by the Construction Technology II & III students during the following school year. The primary teachers are Ina Ahern (Science), Douglas Ross (Construction Technology) and Mardean Badger (Library Media Specialist).

Planting the Seed

The project will be introduced to each class separately by the respective instructors: "As you know, we've been working on getting an addition to our building for the last few years. On Saturday, March 20, on our third attempt, the public approved the $6.3 million bond issue at the school district meeting. One of the primary areas being addressed in the building is the science facility — we will be renovating the current classrooms and adding four new classrooms at the back of the building. In the normal building design process from concept to finished plan, many hard decisions and choices are made as to what to include or exclude — and one that affected us was the elimination of a greenhouse early in the process. But we have two groups of students right in this building who can become the consultants and contractors for this project — Ms. Ahern’s Physical Science class and Mr. Ross’s Construction Technology III class."

Both classes gain an understanding of the overall project (needs assessment, design considerations, selection of a design, funding research, public presentation and actual construction) and understand their specific role(s) in the project. During the course of the project, students work on different teams that are responsible for different facets of the program. Some of these teams include students from only one class, while others have representatives from both classes. Each team has a leader or, in the case of joint teams, co-leaders.

The physical science class is primarily responsible for conducting the needs assessment. Mary asks "What is a needs assessment?" John responds, "It's a kind of survey; we need to find out why we need a greenhouse." "We could ask all the science teachers why they need it for what they are teaching — and what should be in the greenhouse, too." "Are there other schools in the state that have greenhouses?" "Maybe we could get some information from businesses that have greenhouses." As the discussion continues and ideas begin to gel, the students realize that they may need three or four groups to gather all the information needed — from science and other teachers; from state curriculum standards; from other schools that have greenhouses; and from greenhouse professionals.

Ms. Ahern schedules the Curriculum Lab upstairs for a few periods and, after Mrs. Badger reviews some basic procedures, the students begin their research. The teacher survey group starts looking for some tips on how to write surveys (they find the librarian has put some tips for survey writing on the project website). The students investigating other schools discover that Webster, the state website, has a listing of schools with links to their respective web sites — and they begin composing some questions to e-mail to the science departments (or vocational agricultural programs) in those schools. And after working with different combinations of terms, one of the students finds some references to school greenhouses in other states by using one of the web search tools. Another student asks if there are standards for what has to be taught in biology class, and Ms. Ahern shows them how to find New Hampshire's science curriculum frameworks on-line. As each group begins their work and accumulates information, they begin to organize the information so they can present their findings to the construction technology students for the next step — and they also realize that this summary will be important later in the process, because the administration and school board will want to know why a greenhouse is needed before they approve the final project for construction.

While the physical science class works on the needs assessment, the Construction Technology II & III class has been informed that this year's project, a greenhouse, will be constructed in cooperation with science students and they will be designing, estimating materials, pricing materials and, again, building the structure.

Mr. Ross opens up the floor for discussion. "What are your thoughts, questions, or concerns?" Jason asks, "How can we design a greenhouse without knowing what kind they want? How big do they want it? Where is it going?" Steve wants to know what kind of material we will be constructing the greenhouse out of. Mike asks, "Will we be installing the heating and/or ventilation if it is needed?" At this point, Mr. Ross stops them to bring up one of the students, Jim, to write down all of the questions. The questions continue -- "How long of a project is this going to be?" asks Dave. Mike wants to know where we can get the information to design the greenhouse. Will there be electric and plumbing considerations? Jessica wants to know if the kind of plants they want to grow will have an effect. And Tim wants to know, "What exactly is our role in this project with the science class?"

"These are all good questions," comments Mr. Ross. "What you first need to know is that the science students are conducting a needs assessment at this time, so their exact needs are not yet known. What this means to us is that we will research a number of different designs using a number of different resources. I would like to see all of you first use the Internet. We also have a few designs on CD-ROM. While on the internet, see if you can locate any architects, builders, listserves, magazines, or businesses that may be of use to you in this project. Copy down the URL and bring it and the rest of your notes back to class with you. What exactly is our role, Tim? Well, we will be the consumer with the science department, the architect drafting the print using CADD, the general contractor putting the materials package and prices together, the builder constructing the greenhouse to the specifications in the print. Note, again, you will be doing this project in cooperation with the science students, in mixed groups, so you may be only responsible for a few of the phases of the whole project."

"You must know that each phase involves some form of presentation to another group that will lead into the next phase, so keep all of your information clear and concise and list all of your references. We would like your presentations to be done using PowerPoint and an LCD projector. After your research on design is complete, you will get into groups with the science department, draft a plan using any of the CADD packages available here at school, build a 3D model, and share your designs telling us the advantages and disadvantages. After all of the groups have made their presentations, the whole group at large will discuss and choose a design that best meets the needs of the science department. This may include future needs. Plan for the future! What we have covered today is definitely enough to take us through a couple of days. What I would like you to do for the rest of the class is to break into groups and discuss the questions up on the board amongst yourselves, choose a recorder and hand in your notes at the end of class. Tomorrow we are scheduled for the Curriculum Lab, so bring your Internet cards with you."

About half way through the work on these first two sections of the project, students and teachers come to the realization that it would be helpful to have a joint, "face-to-face" meeting between the groups and with someone who is a professional in this area. Students prepare a list of topics and questions they would like addressed, and these are e-mailed to a professor at a local university who has agreed to come speak to the group about this project. In the joint meeting students have an opportunity to discuss questions and concerns with their counterparts in the other class, as well as brainstorm ideas and seek guidance from the professional.


Once the groups in both classes have organized the results of their research, they present their findings to a joint session of the physical science/construction technology classes. After these presentations, three teams of eight are formed, with each team preparing a detailed design and model for one of the basic styles of greenhouses. Each group consists of students from both physical science and construction technology, and have one representative (an "expert") from each of the sub-groups which conducted the initial needs assessment and design work. Part of the time, students work in their eight-person teams, while at other times they work during class-time in four-person groups. During this stage of the project, communication between the physical science and construction technology members of the team is critical. On each design team, a representative from each class is selected as team leader and becomes responsible for facilitating the work and communication.

Let's listen in on the design team working on the lean-to style plan. During this time period, the eight students are working together to begin looking at the design. Cory, physical science team leader, starts the conversation. "Okay, since we're looking at the lean-to design, the siting of the greenhouse in relation to the building is critical. What factors do we need to consider?" "It should be near the science facilities," comments Andrea. "We need to consider sunlight," suggests Phil. "What direction should it face?" "Did we decide how wide it has to be?" asks Harry. "The science teachers stated they wanted to be able to control the amount and type of light. What if we located it on a corner?" "Does someone have the blueprint of the school?" "How do we tell which direction is north?" By the end of the period, the students have come up with two possible sites for the greenhouse and figured the dimensions necessary at each site to meet the size requirements of the science department. Each member of the team has specific tasks to research and complete prior to the next work session.

As the design and model work nears completion, a third set of teams is formed to research and secure possible funding sources to enable building the greenhouse. "Do we have any money in the school budget for this?" Jennifer asks. "No," respond both Ms. Ahern and Mr. Ross. "The budget was already developed for the school year before this project was planned, so we need to get creative about funding." Students from both classes begin brainstorming some possible funding sources and partnerships. "Maybe some local businesses would be willing to donate some money....," suggests Carolyn. "Or maybe donate some of the materials that we need," Tim adds. "I could explain our project to my boss at work -- maybe he would be interested in helping." "Is there any grant money we could apply for? I heard Mrs. Dreyer helps with our school's grants," says Jessica. "Can I go see her secretary to set up an appointment to meet with her?" "What if we see if some of the greenhouse suppliers have lower prices for schools -- or might be willing to contribute something." "And maybe Mr. York, our School-to-Work coordinator, would have some ideas or connections." After the brainstorming, the students begin to organize their ideas and divide them into three or four groups. And the research begins......And the contacts are made.....by phone, by e-mail, by fax, and in person. The local newspaper has even picked up the story, and the interest grows. The financial package begins to come together, from several sources, and including donations in money, materials, and time.

Reaping What We Have Sown

The students are now ready to pull all their team reports and data together into a comprehensive proposal, including goals and justification for the greenhouse, design options, site options, financial package, materials lists, time line, etc. The students request some extra advice and tips from other teachers and students. Some of the Business Technology students share what they have learned about personal manner and appearance in business situations. Some of the Computer Skills students give assistance in putting part of the presentation into PowerPoint. Handouts are prepared, transparencies are made, the computer and LCD panel are set up, and parts are practiced. Presentation day arrives and the students meet with the Facilities Committee of the Pemi-Baker Regional School Board. Approval for actual construction is finally obtained for the following school year.

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Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.

Authors: Ina Ahern, Mardean Badger, and Doug Ross
School: Plymouth Regional High School, Plymouth, New Hampshire
Created: March 19,1999 - Updated: May 03, 1999