Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Guide

hy·dro·pon·ic /ˌhīdrəˈpänik/ adjective – relating to or involving hydroponics, the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid. “Seedlings were grown in hydroponic tanks.”

Dictionary: Definition from Oxford Languages

Your students already think the world of you.

But when you show them how to grow fruits and vegetables from seeds, you’ll become the teacher they remember forever. Access to fresh produce makes building healthy habits easier.

Outdoor school gardens and hydroponics systems are powerful teaching tools that spark a sense of wonder and curiosity in your students.

The word hydroponics comes from a combination of the Greek word hydro, which means “of water,” and the Greek word ponos, which means “work.” Hydroponics is the science of cultivating plants in a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil, where the water does the “work” of delivering nutrients to the plant’s roots. Because the roots are bathed in a nutrient solution, there is constant nourishment for the plants.

Since hydroponic gardens don’t require soil and can be kept indoors, they are perfect for schools that can’t grow plants outside in the winter. Indoor, climate-controlled hydroponic systems make food production and education possible any time of the year in any weather condition.

What do Plants Need to Survive, “Learn, Grow, Eat and Go” — Season 1, Episode 1

Above is 28 a minute long video; however, to learn about “What do Plants Need to Survive” take a moment with your students to watch minute 1:22-3:05.

Suggested questions to ask your elementary school students (from Grow. Eat. Go):

  1. Who can name all 5 senses?
  2. Which sense do you use to eat with?
  3. I’m going to call on a few of you to tell us your adjectives/describing words of your favorite foods and we’ll try to guess that food before you tell us!  Who wants to go first?
  4. Name all 6 main plant parts. Which of those parts are edible?
  5. What is the job of the leaves of the plant? What is the job of the roots of the plant?
  6. Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
  7. Do plants really feel crowded? Even if they can’t feel crowded, what problems does being crowded cause? (Read this article from the Washington Post)

In-Classroom Activities

Create a School Garden Planting Calendar Creating a calendar to help us remember to take care of plant needs is a good idea. Which  happens most often on your garden calendar – watering, weeding or feeding?

Jr. Master Gardener Program => Grow. Eat. Go. Student Gardening Journal with Bonus Pages (including taste tests)

Download Weekly/Daily Hydroponics Educational Systems Chart

Indoor Seed Germinating Activity

Rockwool vs. Cotton Balls? – a seed germination experiment

Rockwool has to be ordered and if you don’t have any for your hydroponic systems, you can use the alternative – cotton! Cotton is a commodity crop in Tennessee and is easily attainable. Make sure to get 100% cotton for this experiment.

Grow chart

Be aware of the average germination times for plants. Make sure to read the back of seed packets and look at the dates stamped on the seed packet. Start the germination tray, bowl or plate, then set up the hydroponics system while the seeds are germinating. Below is a list of average timelines for growth of popular plants. 

Planting and Harvesting Cheat Sheet 

Plant Direct Light NeededGerminationDays to Maturation
Swiss ChardYes7-1055-65

BEFORE HARVEST:  Start growing new seeds 7-10 days before harvesting the plants in the hydroponics  system. This will allow movement of new plants from the germination tray directly to the hydroponics system without many or any days between harvest and new growth. 

Our Top Hydroponic Curriculum Picks to get Your Roots Wet!

Junior Master Gardeners Program: There are a great list of resources, free printables, activities, questions and more.

We LOVE KidsGardening.Org. The Kids Garden Community is a free online community supporting individuals, families, and organizations with the skills, tools, and connections to gardening with kids and scale transformative programs. Sign-up for FREE and ask questions, get answers and resources.

Hydroponics – Plant Science, Getting Started
Hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply rather than through the soil. Here are some basic hydroponic systems, as well as growing tips.

DIY Hydroponics – GRADE LEVEL: PRESCHOOL, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
The idea of growing plants in nontraditional ways like by using hydroponics techniques can really capture kids’ attention and get them excited about gardening. Prefabricated hydroponic units can be pricy, so this activity provides information about designing DIY options that may be a little more economical.

The Plant Soil Relationship – Grade Level: 3-5
Students will learn: 1) Soil helps anchor plants and provides them essential elements of water and nutrients. 2)Plants prevent soil erosion and provide organic matter.

Grow with the Flow – Grade Level: 5-9
This 10 session project-based curriculum includes simple instructions for constructing 2 different types of hydroponic units, setting plants, observing growth, and harvesting. Entomology, physics, social studies, marketing, math, nutrition and careers in horticulture, are integrated into the basic plant science focus. These projects allow for a balanced approach with group and individual activities. 

Soil vs. Water: Exploring Hydroponics – Grade Level: 6-8th, 9th – 12th
Students will:

  • Review what plants need to grow
  • Explore how traditional soil-based gardening techniques provide for plant needs
  • Explore how hydroponic growing techniques provide for plant needs
  • Conduct an experiment to observe differences between traditional and hydroponic growing techniques

Nutrition Activities

How to Eat Healthy with My Plate: Remember the food pyramid? Meet MyPlate, the official symbol of the five food groups. Learn how to make MyPlate work for you.

Go Slow Whoa Activity – Food supplies the nutrients needed to fuel your body so you can perform your best.U R What U Eat: Go, Slow, Whoa is a simple way to recognize foods that are the smartest choices.

Discovery My Plate: Discover MyPlate includes seven emergent readers featuring kindergarten-level sight words that help children build literacy skills while learning about the five food groups and MyPlate.

Taste Test Guide (cabbage, kale, swiss chard, mixed greens): This Taste Test Guide has the information, curriculum, and recipes needed for schools and cafeterias to implement Harvest of the Month taste tests.


Taste of TN Harvest of the Month Posters – Download our Free Printable and Shareable Posters for your Classroom or Cafeteria – designed with love from Tennessee students.

Reality Works Interactive Posters/Infographics

Wish-List Books & Hydroponic Systems

Learn. Grow. Eat. Go. – Grade School

Through a linear set of hands-on lessons, your students will better understand plants and how they provide for people’s needs. The 10-week (2 lessons/week) unit of study will step your class through the process of establishing a thriving garden that is easy to create and maintain. The curriculum features opportunities for fresh vegetable tasting/evaluation, simple recipe demos, and physical activities that research shows can improve on-task behavior and academic performance. (226 pp.)

4-H Club High School – High School

Youth will learn how to grow plants without soil, how the hydroponics industry has developed, the most common types of soilless growing systems, and advanced plant nutrition.  Included also are activities related to conservation and limited resources and comparing and contrasting soil-based and soilless growing systems.  A purchase of the Leader Guide comes with a download of the PowerPoint training slides that may be used as part of instruction.

Looking for Hydroponic Systems?Here is a review from SproutRite

Maybe you are you looking for something more specific that we can add to this growing resource list? Please let us know! Contact Us. #NWTNFarmtoSchool

Information gathered By Caroline Ideus & Samantha Goyret
Local Food Network Team Members