Seventh-grade students at Carroll Middle School (from left) Tyler Stork, Gage Musfeldt and Thomas Quandt talk about the alfalfa and other plants they grew in the 3D organic garden they designed in class Friday afternoon.
Seventh-grade students at Carroll Middle School (from left) Tyler Stork, Gage Musfeldt and Thomas Quandt talk about the alfalfa and other plants they grew in the 3D organic garden they designed in class Friday afternoon.

December 12, 2018

Working together, middle school students used a 3D design system to create virtual organic gardens where they grew different vegetables, plants or other sustainable items that one day could be seen growing at Swan Lake in Carroll.

For a few weeks, Kassidy Cardenas, a Carroll Middle School science teacher, had her students create lists of materials they would purchase with a theoretical $100,000 budget to allow them to begin building 3D gardens on an acre of land at Swan Lake.

Before building the gardens, students learned about different ecosystems, created food chain webs and learned about photosynthesis, Cardenas said. Then they were able to dive right into their projects to find ways to master an organic ecosystem that would not harm Swan Lake but would help fuel its resources and be approved by the “Swan Lake board,” which consisted of a few Carroll Middle School teachers and Carroll County Conservation Naturalist Matt Wetrich.

“We wanted to try project-based learning, and we thought of the organic garden and Matt (Wetrich) said there is an acre of land at Swan Lake, and it’s just mowed grass, and (we) thought it would be a perfect area to think about having a garden and even to think about in the long run having it happen if they were really interested in investing in it,” Cardenas said.

After students created design proposals for their gardens, they created a materials list of items such as corn, squash, alfalfa and more that they would plant at their garden.

From there, they went to work.

The students used Tinkercad, an online 3D design tool that allowed them to create real-life designs.

Two of the designs will be selected and printed on a 3D printed.

The project taught students all the factors of growing a garden such as costs, which vegetables are more nutrient-rich than others, where certain vegetables should be placed and how to help create something sustainable for others to use as well, Cardenas said.

“The other big thing we wanted them to think about was community involvement, because it is a state park; you can’t restrict anybody, so you want to involve them more than take it away — keeping the land natural,” she said.

While listening to the presentations, Wetrich provided students with useful gardening tips.

“He was asking them to think about natural prairie grass, keeping a natural environment there (and) how to involve the community, Cardenas said. “He was kind of educating them on his job, what he does and that some people do this every day (along with) where they have to think about what plants go where.”

She said the project was introduced this year to give the students a peek at what creating a real organic garden might entail.

Next year, who knows — the students might be down at Swan Lake tilling and planting real-life gardens.