Prestonwood Students Dig in the Dirt for STEM

When people think about STEM in schools (science, technology, engineering, and math), most think of a laboratory setting. That’s not the case for Prestonwood Christian Academy’s new STEM garden, which opened on February 9.

It’s a space where students can engage in an “outdoor classroom” for hands-on activities such as gathering data and analyzing it.

“PCA’s STEM Garden is another step in differentiating PCA’s academic program of excellence,” says head of school Larry Taylor, who oversees the Plano campus for pre-K through 12th-grade students.

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A Prestonwood Christian Academy kindergartener gets to work planting. Photos: Terri LaMendola

One way students can investigate and test their research includes a drip-irrigation system in 12 raised beds, mainly for vegetables and herbs. Students will also be able to get some dirt under their fingernails with aquaponics, aeroponics, wicking beds, and an “off-the-grid technologically advanced greenhouse.” That means all students will be able to use the garden for STEM education in a grade-level appropriate way.

“With the little ones, it may be planting seeds and learning about things they’re reading in their books or on their iPads, but in real life,” says communications director Katie MacDonald. “For upper-elementary school, I can see them incorporating math and technology a little more, where teachers can challenge students to calculate gallons of water needed and things like that.”

As all students at Prestonwood are equipped with iPads — and the older ones with Macbooks —the possibilities for data input and analysis are endless. But for middle-school principal Bill Wendl, this could open up a much larger scope of impact, specifically when students are sent on mission trips to areas with poor access to water, food, or fertile land.

“Imagine PCA students designing and maintaining an ‘off-the-grid’ greenhouse at school which could then be replicated and set up by PCA students on ‘mini-mester’ in areas of need around the world,” he says.

Many of those kids are getting right to work with their new garden. Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the school’s academic heads, lower and middle school students planted lettuce and Swiss chard.But for educators like Wendl, the experience for students is meant to spur more than just an interest in gardening or the outdoors.

“We strive to develop curiosity within our students throughout all different disciplines and our new STEM Garden will go a long way to achieving our goals,” he says.

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