Programming, physics, and biology in a single STEM course

This plant irrigation system is one of the most interesting projects I have worked on in the past year.


In short, it is a single plant irrigation system that measures several parameters – soil moisture, temperature and light to decide whether to turn on the water pump or not.

At first we sowed basil seeds and after they became seedlings we moved them to pots. We took care of the plants every day, watering them, adding liquid fertilizer and whatever else was needed. There were also talks related to the cultivation of plants, which touch on topics from biology.

The electronic boards that control the irrigation system were assembled by students themselves – literally, with a soldering iron in hand. We had to learn basic principles of physics: what electricity is, current, voltage, and resistance, and how they relate to each other. We also touched on other physics topics.

Part of the activity was assembling the wooden frame on which we mounted the electronic boards, the pot, the water container, and other elements of the system. It was important for students to acquire hands-on skills and to work with different tools and materials.

We learned how to program the electronic boards, work with sensors, and create an algorithm to control the irrigation system. We haven’t used any pre-made code – everyone creates their own program from scratch. For simplicity, we used a block programming system.

Finally, we assembled all the system components. Everyone downloaded the final version of the program, filled the container with water, and turned the power on. Everything worked. It remains to be seen how it will take care of the plant. This will take some time of course.

The primary purpose of this multidisciplinary course was to show how what we study in several academic disciplines can find practical application in something useful. We chose an irrigation system because of its importance, applicability, and the fact that absolutely everyone can easily understand its benefits.

Of course, the projects remain for the participants to keep. Over the summer, we will expect everyone to send us feedback on how their plants are doing, and hopefully, they will survive until the start of the school year.

We tried to do all this in a relatively short time – 8 classes of 2 hours each, but now that everything is finished and we have analyzed what was achieved, I think it is more suitable for 12 classes of 2 hours each so that we have more time for some of the more complex topics.

We plan to repeat the experiment in the fall to see if the plants can thrive during the colder months when students are actually in school.

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