At Home STEM Kits Bring Science To Living Rooms Of Public School Kids

The hydroponic STEM kits that the students received. Courtesy of NY Sun Works.

One non-profit organization has been making it easier to bring the classroom home during the Pandemic forced blended/remote learning by providing thousands of at-home hydroponic kits to NYC public school students. 

NY Sun Works (NYSW) is an NYC-based sustainability education non-profit that builds innovative hydroponic science labs in public schools. Since September of this year, they have provided 7,000 home hydroponic STEM kits to students, grades K-12 all over the city, with 4,000 kits being paid for through fundraising done by NYSW. 

The hydroponic kits mirror the hydroponic labs used at indoor farms through NYSW. The students grow and study edible plants as well as practice their observation, data collection, and other critical STEM skills. Since most schools have been hybrid or simply virtual since April, Manuela Zamora, Executive Director and co-founder of NYSW since 2008, worked with the team of 20 at NYSW, to bring the science labs they work so hard to build, to the homes of students. 

“You always remember that project that you did in your kitchen or in your house and how things went, even when it was in first grade right?” Zamora said. “So, we thought, we need to make that happen and the kits serve so many purposes.”

The STEM kits are designed to engage students on science and sustainability concepts that they would usually learn in a science lab setting. Students use the kits over zoom, with guidance from teachers and science lessons developed by NYSW that follow New York state standards.

Owais is a third-grader at PS 171. Courtesy of NY Sun Works.

“Plants are everything,” Owais, a third-grader at PS 171 in Queens said. “Think of it; plants are paper, food, clothes, house and air. Plants provide us oxygen and without plants, we wouldn’t have clean air.”

NYSW works with 170 schools throughout NYC – 10% of the public school system. The schools they work with are able to request the kits online by putting in the student information, grade level and so on. The STEM kits can be picked up at the school, sent home or used in the classroom for those who still meet in person. 

While each kit contains the same amount and content for each grade, the lesson plans change depending on grade level. Zamora said that first-graders may be working on the smell or size of seeds, while seventh-graders may be focusing on photosynthesis.  

The STEM kits growing plants in the comfort of students’ homes. Courtesy of NY Sun Works.

The kits contain a variety of items: 

  • 5 seed varieties 
  • 10 Q-plugs 
  • 10 pH strips 
  • 2 paper towels 
  • 1 plastic bag
  • 1 cotton wick 
  • 1 transfer pipette 
  • Clay pebbles 
  • Plant nutrients 

The benefits have proven to be great. Since launching the STEM kits at the beginning of the school year, teachers, parents, and students are raving that all benefit in some way or another from the hands-on-at-home kits. 

Gordon is a student at PS 176. Courtesy of NY Sun Works.

“It’s exciting to see the seeds sprout and fun to see them grow,” said Gordon, who goes to PS 176, The Ovington School in Brooklyn.

Elana Mass, Senior Development Manager at NYSW, said that the teachers are feeling far more supported and connected to the students because of the STEM kits. Having to completely change a lesson plan virtually isn’t easy, so receiving plans from NYSW that they can tweak has helped teachers feel less overwhelmed. 

“For students, it’s this sense of, you know, growing something amazing, a sense of wonder that comes from growing and to have it right there,” Mass said. “When kids are so in need of something joyful and pulling them away from the stress and anxiety that they’re feeling is so important.”

Zamora plans on keeping the STEM kits available for as long as students and faculty need them. While 7,000 have been sent out and given for the first half of the school year, almost 1,000 more have already been requested by schools for the semester starting after the holidays. 

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Keira Wingate

Keira was an intern for Bklyner and continues to freelance here. She has her BA in Journalism and currently goes to The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. When she's not working or writing you can find her cuddling her cat or eating potatoes.

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