The rooftop of Newcastle Grammar School’s Hill Campus has always been a pretty special spot, with enviable views across the city and harbour. But it is set to become even more valuable with the launch of the school’s latest project aimed at taking learning out of the classroom and into the environment -- a rooftop garden.
Technology teacher Mr Chris Wyatt is leading the project that will not only see the rooftop turned into a sustainable garden supplying fresh produce but will generate energy, incorporate aquaponics and foster the growth of Newcastle’s native bee population.
From the garden to the kitchen
The rooftop garden has just been planted for the first time and is set to produce vegetables to be used in Food Technology courses.
“Students will plant what they need ongoing in the course, and be able to harvest directly from the garden beds,” Mr Wyatt says.
In turn, waste from the Food Technology kitchen will be collected to produce compost for the garden.
Next year, aquaponics will also be incorporated into the garden – a self-sustaining system of growing fish in a symbiotic combination with plants. The fish live in the base of the tank, and their waste produces nitrogen and food for the plants, which grow in clay bowls at the top of the system, producing clean water for the fish.
Bringing STEM to life
Mr Wyatt says the garden will become home to a variety of lessons across the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum for students of all ages, teaching problem-solving along with other key skills.
“We’ll be able to use the garden for Food Technology and science lessons, as well as across other departments – there are opportunities to integrate it across a number of curricula.”
“We have a strong focus on STEM education and a big part of this is looking at physics around us and how energy is produced and utilised.
“The garden offers an exciting opportunity for students to have a real-world connection and one of the ideas already being discussed among students is to incorporate solar energy into the aquaponic system to run the pumps.”
Year 12 Biology students hope to use the garden to conduct experiments on hydrangea alkalinity while it will enable Year 7 Mathematics students to put a garden design unit into practice.
Some of the school’s Year 11 students are also looking at ways of automating the garden, using technology to monitor aspects like sunlight availability and moisture levels to help guide planting.
Mr Wyatt says the students are driving the garden’s development, putting forward suggestions about how it is designed and what elements are incorporated.
During the recent school holidays, several year 11 students chose to spend time at school preparing the garden beds for planting, and two students are currently writing a proposal to put to school management about establishing a honeybee hive to complement the garden.
A holistic approach to education
Head of Newcastle Grammar School, Mrs Erica Thomas, says the rooftop garden is a fitting addition to the school as it celebrates its centenary and takes an innovative approach to learning for the future.
“The garden is a perfect example of our school’s holistic approach to education,” says Mrs Thomas.
”We recognise that learning doesn’t just take place within the four walls of the classroom and that student wellbeing and connection to community are integral to academic success, and to enabling every student to reach their potential.”
She says the garden will form a valuable resource to support the school’s forwardlooking, integrative approach to STEM education.
“This project will help bring learning to life across a wide range of subjects, especially in STEM, which we know provides students with skills that are not only critical to supporting future innovation in Australia but are increasingly sought by employers regardless of the career pathways students pursue.”
Abuzz with opportunities
Newcastle Grammar School students are set to enter the mysterious world of beekeeping, with a hive for native bees to be established in tandem with the new rooftop garden.
Technology teacher Chris Wyatt is also an avid apiarist and currently keeps six honeybee hives at his home. He will oversee the establishment of the new school hive, which will be home to a stingless species of bee called Tetragonula carbonaria, which thrives in the north-east coast of Australia and is one of only a handful of native species that creates colonies and is stingless.
“We certainly need to protect our native bees, which face the threat of loss of habitat,” Mr Wyatt says.
The hive will have a perspex lid so students can monitor its development, and the bees are expected to travel to the rooftop garden to pollinate the plants.
Mr Waytt says their beekeeping not only gives students new experiences and skills but can teach them how to work towards a goal, how to work in collaboration and show them the value of contributing to their community.
In keeping with Newcastle Grammar School’s Positive Education Framework which focuses on giving students wellbeing skills hand-in-hand with academic achievement, he says beekeeping and gardening are great stress-relievers, encouraging mindfulness and focus.
”I have a passion for students learning selfsufficiency, but I think the most powerful aspect is really on student wellbeing. Students will have the opportunity to interact with the environment, to slow down, and to take time to appreciate what is around them.”