Student Thesis on Project Based Learning Published

Published: September 02, 2021 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 3 minutes

SUU education student, Brad GannonWhat do hydroponics, buttercrunch lettuce, and middle school students have in common? Southern Utah University graduate Brad Gannon may be able to answer that question through his graduate thesis, which was recently the subject of an article published by the Social Publishers Foundation.

Gannon has been an educator for six years, and he currently teaches courses in career and technical education (CTE) for seventh graders at Ecker Hill Middle School. After completing his English as a Second Language endorsement at SUU, Gannon decided to pursue his master’s degree in education. He graduated from SUU in 2020 with an M.Ed., and his graduate thesis focused on project-based learning and hydroponics.

"Brad is a great example of the power and flexibility of practitioner research,” said Dr. Joel Judd, director of graduate studies in education. Dr. Judd helped develop SUU’s practitioner-based thesis and was Gannon’s thesis mentor. “Even during a pandemic, student understanding of agriculture is as relevant as ever, and he provided effective experiential learning adapted to his students' circumstances and backgrounds. As a result, students gained valuable firsthand awareness of food production and distribution, and Brad developed research expertise he can employ the rest of his career."

Gannon noticed that his middle school students had a limited interest in and understanding of how food is grown and distributed. Making this the subject of his thesis, Gannon sought out to answer the following question: How might project based learning increase student interest in, and the understanding of, food production, distribution, and technology in agriculture?

“Within both CTE courses that I teach, agriculture is one career pathway that we discuss in depth,” said Gannon. “I believe that agriculture education is essential in our public education system in order for students to learn about the essential role that food production plays in our society, and about the ever-evolving careers in agriculture. Additionally, if we continue to lose focus in regards to agricultural education, we may be looking at a future where we are more disconnected than ever from how our food is produced, grown, and transported.”

For this extended project, students grew their own buttercrunch lettuce plants with both active and passive hydroponic systems and learned about food growth and distribution in global economies. The students documented their progress and understanding along the way in weekly journals, and completed pre- and post- surveys to gauge their understanding and interest. At the end of the project, the students enjoyed salads made from the buttercrunch lettuce they grew.

Gannon decided to frame this project around hydroponics based on his personal interest and experience. His interest originates from volunteering on organic farms in New Zealand in 2009.

“Coming back to the United States, I was fascinated with horticulture and the different aspects of using technology to grow food,” said Gannon. “Living and teaching at a higher elevation in the mountains of Utah have presented numerous challenges, including growing season length, a cold climate, and soil challenges. These difficulties have encouraged me to look at hydroponics as a way to grow food, while also connecting it to the classroom.”

An article based on Gannon’s thesis was published in 2021 by the Social Publishers Foundation, a non-profit publication for practitioners and researchers.

“Publishing this research allows the greater world to see what is possible and what can be done inside a classroom,” said Gannon. “Additionally, I hope that this published research encourages others to build upon the work that I have done to benefit students and our society.”

Gannon would like to thank the STEM Action Center of Utah and the Park City Education Foundation for making this project possible.

The College of Education and Human Development is a flagship program at Southern Utah University. The goal of the education department is to prepare professional educators who create equitable learning spaces for all, practitioner-researchers who fully participate in decision-making processes to resolve their school’s and students’ needs, and educational leaders who transform schools and shape tomorrow’s society. Learn more about graduate studies in education.

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