The Case for Ag-tech in Education

When I was an elementary teacher at Waimea Elementary School, my students and I had the unique opportunity to tend to our own class garden. We got our hands dirty as we learned how to grow different plants. We tapped into our creative side (think: Claude Monet) and painted in our garden. We even leveraged our writing skills to develop fiction and non-fiction stories about our garden. The opportunities for fun, engaging, and relevant learning in the garden were endless!

My kindergarteners planting garlic chives, lilikoi, beets, and cilantro in our “kindergarden” circa 2013.

After stepping out of the classroom, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the education tech (edtech) and agriculture tech (agtech) landscapes. I got to spend a year and half working with (an edtech start-up), before joining Smart Yields (an agtech start-up).

The Smart Yields team and extended ‘ohana.
What really fascinates me is the idea of bringing agtech to education in the K12 space.

Agtech and education haven’t really had the chance to interact together before. Since the agtech industry is a fairly new and booming industry, it makes sense. But there are many natural synergies between the two, and now is a better time than any to help bridge these two complementary industries.


Feeding the world is going to be a real challenge by 2050. The climate is changing. The world’s population is growing. One percent of the people on our planet are growing the food that we eat today. Our current agriculture models are going to need to change quite drastically to accommodate the 9.5 billion people expected to be living on our planet by 2050.

Image borrowed from National Geographic here.

We’re facing a global food crisis. Although HOW we solve this crisis has become a polarizing debate, everyone can agree that big changes need to happen. On one side of the debate, there are those who feel strongly about leveraging technology to continue to propel conventional agriculture forward. On the other side of things, there are those who believe that small local and organic farmers can make the biggest impact.

Perhaps another solution exists entirely: empowering the next generation to care about and play vital roles in battling the global food crisis to help develop even more solutions. With only 1% of the world growing most of the food that we eat today, in the near future we desperately need more agronomists, botanists, and agriculturists to keep our planet and our people alive. The K12 education space provides the perfect environment to inspire and empower our students.

Last October I got to check out West Hawaii Explorations Academy (WHEA). WHEA is already doing great things with its STEM-focused, hands-on approach to solving real-world challenges. The students are using cold deep sea water to irrigate their crops on campus.

What better place to foster an understanding for and empathy in the global food crisis, other than in the K12 education space? Our students of today are going to be our leaders of tomorrow. By the time that they start their own careers, they are going to be feeling the effects of the world’s changing climate and growing population far more than we are today. It is our duty to empower the next generation’s leaders with the appropriate resources and knowledge to help them keep our planet and our people alive.


We need to find opportunities to seamlessly integrate agtech into what’s already happening in the K12 education space. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) align very nicely with agtech. In fact, here at Smart Yields we’ve developed a few NGSS-aligned agtech learning projects for K12 teachers by current K12 teachers.

We’d love teachers to get their hands on these agtech/NGSS projects — click here if you’d like to try them out!
Danny Palmer is one of Smart Yields’ curriculum developers. She’s an elementary garden educator in San Francisco!

These agtech learning projects incorporate wireless sensor technology, allowing students to run experiments as they monitor and control factors such as soil moisture levels, ambient light levels, humidity, temperature, CO2, and air quality.

Whether or not a school has a garden, there are many ways for teachers and students to start learning about agtech and the role that it can play in helping to solve the global food crisis. Don’t have access to an outside garden space? No problem, get some potted plants and grow them under your classroom’s windowsill!

Empower students to design and execute their own experiments. Students are naturally curious problem-solvers. Let’s give them the opportunity to design and execute their own plant-growing experiments. Students can digitally run and keep track of all of their experimental observations with an app like Smart Yields. Students would have the opportunity to develop many integral skills engaging in a process like this, such as learning:

  • How to grow their own food from their own backyards.
  • How to collaborate with other students to design and execute experiments.
  • How to collect and analyze experimental data using real, living things.
  • How various factors can affect different plants in different ways.
Students at Iolani School setting up their plant sensors with the Smart Yields app earlier this year.

Allow students to collaborate with other schools around the world to PROMOTE CITIZEN SCIENCE! Imagine if 50 schools all over the world decided to grow the same crop. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to analyze the growing data from all of these locations? Students and teachers all around the world could have the opportunity to learn and collaborate together in so many different ways. The opportunities are truly endless! Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Establish growing competitions focused on utilizing resources efficiently (e.g., What school can grow the the biggest watermelons with the least amount of water?)
  • Develop and share your most successful “growing recipes” with other schools and see what happens when these schools try them out in their different regions.

Allow students to collaborate with local farmers in their communities to PROMOTE CITIZEN SCIENCE! The successful experimental data collected from schools could be shared with local farmers (and vice-versa). These successful growing recipes could be taken to real farms to help local farmers keep their communities fed. Plus, if farmers are also leveraging agtech to collect data on their farms, this data could be shared with schools to facilitate an even stronger community learning and support network between farmers and students.

The beginnings of our very special “kindergarden” circa 2013.

When I was an educator, I wish that I had access to the agtech tools that are starting to become available today. Although my students and I sure had a blast in the garden, I know that we would have had even richer opportunities to learn and collaborate with the addition of agtech. Since I’m no longer in the classroom, I’m looking forward to working with current educators who want to empower the next generation of leaders to help solve the global food crisis that we’re facing today.

If you enjoyed this article as much as my students enjoyed getting their hands dirty in our “kindergarden”, please press the 💚 button below and share it with your network. Are you an educator who’s already doing neat things in the agtech space? I’d love to hear from you!

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