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BC Professor Recognized For Urban Education

Lynch School Of Education’s Barnett Earns Massachusetts Professor Of The Year Award

For The Heights

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Boston College Lynch School of Education Associate Professor of Science Education and Technology Michael Barnett has been named the 2012 Massachusetts Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Council for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Barnett’s focus is on urban education. Specifically, Barnett hopes to instill a lasting interest and passion for science within young students, especially those from inner-city neighborhoods, with the hope that these students will go on to major in some kind of science during their college career.

One of the ways he does this is through teaching high school students from cities like Mattapan and Dorchester to grow fruits and vegetables in indoor hydroponic gardens and sell them to their community at farmer’s markets.

Barnett’s hydroponic gardens are located on Hammond Street, as an extension of the Connolly House.

The hydroponics equipment is unique in that it uses no soil and almost no water. Rows of plants grow in individual slots of mineral-infused water. The rows are then stacked vertically in order to maximize the space in the greenhouse.

Everything in the greenhouse is almost completely reusable, including the water, which is continuously circulated through the system, reaching over 150 plants on each stack. The hydroponics system is also more efficient than regular soil.

“Raising food with hydroponics can be done a lot faster than with regular soil because the roots are constantly surrounded by the minerals in the water,” Barnett said. “Hydroponics cuts the growing time of most plants in half.”
The high school students working on Barnett’s greenhouses are Boston Public School students who are part of a unique program that fuses BC’s science program with the College Bound program at the University—the LSOE and the National Science Foundation also fund the project.

“The kids noticed that the areas where they lived did not have access to any unprocessed food. In fact, the city of Mattapan has no full service super market at all,” Barnett said. “Part of the greenhouse project is to try and find a solution to that problem.”
Barnett explained that not only are students getting exposure to math, science, engineering, and economics through designing and experimenting with the hydroponic equipment, they are also social entrepreneurs working to solve social justice problems in their own community.”
Barnett’s students call themselves the “Urban Hydr-O Farmers.” They sell their fruits and vegetables at the market in Roxbury’s Egleston Square.

As of right now, they are the only group to have a year-round market in Boston.

“Right now, they are losing money,” Barnett said. “But we are going to continue to let them do that on purpose so that they can learn to perform a more thorough cost analysis and set the prices according to their costs.”
Barnett also has smaller greenhouse systems set up in elementary schools for younger students.  The Salvation Army’s Kroc Community Center in Dorchester funds this project.

Although the younger students do not design the sophisticated hydroponic systems like their high school counterparts, they get to pick out fruits and vegetables that they want to grow. They learn to take care of the plants as part of an after-school program.

The senior citizens at the community center can also get involved in the project.

“What is interesting about the community at the Kroc Center is that the senior citizens are primarily immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean,” Barnett said. “They were very likely immersed in an agricultural society in their native countries, so they are valuable tools in helping get these young kids excited about the greenhouses and science.”
Barnett deflected the praise he has received from the award.

“The ultimate goal here is to get folks excited about science,” Barnett said. “This project hopes to show the young adults that science is a real and tenable way to address the social justice issues that they are living today.”

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