Garden TOOLS: Technology-rich agricultural engineering opportunities in outdoor learning spaces

Erin Ingram, Jennifer Keshwani, Tammera J. Mittelstet, Julie Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


As demand for food and energy continues to grow, so, too, does the importance of understanding agricultural systems and technologies. There is a need to prepare a science-literate citizenry capable of making informed decisions related to food, energy, and water in a world of rapid technological advancement. Outdoor learning spaces, such as school and community gardens, offer a compelling venue for K-12 students to engage in place-based, interdisciplinary STEM learning. While these spaces often support science instruction, technology and engineering learning opportunities are limited. To address this need, Garden TOOLS (Technology Opportunities in Outdoor Learning Spaces) engages upper elementary students (grades 3-5) in coding programmable BBC micro:bit microcontrollers as environmental sensors to facilitate exploration and technology-rich engineering projects in outdoor learning spaces. This program aims to cultivate learners' 21st-century skill development in preparation for a modernizing agricultural workforce and encourage learners to pursue career pathways related to agricultural engineering. During Garden TOOLS programming, youth begin by using BBC micro:bits pre-coded as outdoor technology tools including a compass, counter, thermometer, light level meter, and soil moisture probe. Students then engage in basic tutorials to learn to code the BBC micro:bit using a block-based programming platform. A series of coding projects expand student understanding of circuits, sensors, and fundamental coding concepts. As youth gain computational thinking skills through programming experiences, they eventually apply their understanding to address student-identified garden challenges particular to their site. For example, students may program the BBC micro:bit to monitor soil moisture levels to establish an irrigation schedule. Garden TOOLS has received an enthusiastic reception from participants including youth and formal and informal educators. Development efforts have focused on designing and piloting multiple instructional supports including standards-aligned curriculum materials suitable for use in formal or informal education settings and professional development training for after-school staff, pre-service and in-service elementary teachers, and Nebraska Extension personnel. So far, professional development training has been conducted with 93 informal educators and 178 formal educators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number742
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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