Thinking like Farmers at Rode Heath

Just before we broke up for half term, we launched our latest Rode Heath school STEM project, which this year is going to revolve around #FarmtoFork. Even though the rain was lashing down, there was much excitement amongst pupils and teachers as each class braved the weather to plant a pair of cotton pants (freshly delivered from Amazon!) to investigate how healthy the soil is in our school grounds.

Testing the soil

For those of you not in the know, this may seem like a very strange thing to do, but it has a real purpose. The idea is that if you plant your pants down far enough – about 20cm into the ground – and leave them for 60+ days, then if your soil is healthy millions of tiny life-forms will literally eat the pants you have buried, leaving just the elastic as evidence. Conversely, if your soil is relatively unhealthy and not teeming with life, then your pants will remain unscathed. Make sure they are 100% cotton (or other natural material) though; otherwise it won’t work.

This fun activity was carried out by farmers earlier this year for the LEAF Open Farm Sunday on 12 June 2022 – and more recently has been a focus of Radio 4’s long running soap, The Archers, so it must be a legitimate thing to do.

I am not sure what our expectations are at Rode Heath but each class chose their area very seriously and marked it with a special yellow pole, designed by our School Business Manager, Edy Hicklin. Now, it’s a waiting game . . . although those children who genuinely expect a cotton tree to grow, are definitely going to be disappointed.

Investing in Hydroponics

So why have we chosen #FarmtoFork as our theme this year? There are a number of reasons, one of which is our desire to make children more aware of how precious and finite our resources are – particularly soil – whilst encouraging them to eat more healthily.

We want to make the food element of our D&T curriculum more purposeful by involving our pupils directly in the growing process, from herbs on their pizzas to tomatoes and cucumbers in their salads – all using a sustainable, low carbon footprint.

To help us achieve these goals we have invested in 3 hydroponic systems, invented for schools by Sue Tonks from

The word “hydroponics” comes from the Greek words for “water” and “labour,” and refers to the technique of growing plants without soil. When plants are grown hydroponically, their roots are dipped straight into nutrient-rich solutions. Since they are connected directly to the necessary nutrients, hydroponically-grown plants have smaller root systems. This saves energy and allows it to be diverted to leaf and stem growth. Hydroponic systems require limited space, use 70% LESS water than soil based growing, grow 30% faster, and have no need for herbicides or pesticides, making them a very ‘green’ solution.

Sue will be visiting Rode Heath during Science Week next March and will work with all our pupils to build and populate each system. We will also be encouraging the Rode Heath community to help us grow seedlings and will be asking for volunteers to work with the children to maintain the plants and develop the school garden.

As always, we will be forging links with local businesses such as Mornflake in Crewe and inviting farmers and engineers into school to share their experiences with our pupils.

Real-life Learning

To provide a structure to our planning and further enrich our STEM curriculum, we will be taking part in this year’s Engineering Educates Farmvention Challenge – a brand new campaign created by the University of Manchester’s Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub (SEERIH) and the NFU, which offers pupils the chance to design solutions for real-world problems related to farming and sustainability.

Launched in September 2022

There are a wealth of excellent resources for both teachers and pupils to engage in from investigating the problems faced by arable farmers to learning about and responding to the challenges of dairy farming. Each strand of the campaign works through the phases of the Engineering Design Process making it an exciting, relevant and purposeful way of delivering the D&T curriculum.

I strongly urge both KS2 and KS3 teachers to take a closer look at what’s on offer by signing up to one of the free introductory webinars.

You can find out more information here:

Meanwhile – why don’t you consider planting some pants?