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Space Farmer Dream Kit Review by Cecilia Young

DreamUp PBC

I had never considered myself to have a green thumb. When DreamUp PBC, through the Old Schoolhouse®, presented my family with the opportunity to be Space Farmers and conduct a seed growth experiment side by side with astronauts on the International Space Station, we simply could not say no. The Space Farmer DreamKit can be purchased on the DreamUp website for about $80, and for an additional $150, you can buy the educator lesson plans that go with the kit.

DreamUp PBC is an organization with a desire to foster a love of STEM-focused learning to people who have never had the opportunity to go to space, like us. DreamUp PBC is proud to be the first company to bring space to the classroom and impart knowledge of the scientific method and hands-on experiments; experiences comparable to the experiments being done on the International Space Station, with some experiments even being sent to the ISS. Their kits allow the students to do the actual research, form hypotheses, conduct the experiment, and analyze the outcomes with little more than the teacher’s quiet observation. I can tell you, though, as my children’s teacher, I learned and participated right along with the students.

DreamUp PBC partnered with BASF for this plant growth experiment. BASF is an organization that prides itself on working on agricultural innovation. The Space Farmer DreamKit is an experiment that takes place over thirty days and gives the recipients of the kit the tools needed to grow plants as close as possible to how they are being raised on the International Space Station. Growing plants on the International Space Station and comparing them to plants grown in controlled environments on Earth could discover new and innovative ways to grow food in areas not suitable for plant life (like in space).

This kit is fantastic for any age group or grade level, but I think my 11-year-old was the most interested. The kit includes all the sheets needed to set up a controlled experiment and pages to record your findings. The kit also contains a unique code to make an account on the DreamUp website. This website gives some additional worksheets, including a fun word search and a few videos from the astronauts. It also has a great introductory video explaining more details about the experiment and need for it.

The Space Farmer DreamKit from DreamUp comes in a delightful space-themed box that immediately got the kids excited. We opened it up to find a full-sized “Exploration Guide” with complete instructions on setting up our experiment. The booklet also includes the necessary information to explain the need for the investigation and pages for recording data and findings. The kit consists of three seed packets, food coloring, a stir stick, large tweezers, a Gellan Gum container, a 10 ml dropper, and 12 vials with lids and a stand.

At first, opening the kit was extremely exciting; however, it got a bit overwhelming quickly. When we were overwhelmed, the website came in handy. After setting up our  DreamUp account, we found a chat for any questions. The website is an integral part of the students’ learning process for this experiment, not just for the chat box but also for the photographs provided that show daily plant growth progress on the International Space Station.

Before setting up the experiment, we got to do some research on plant and leaf anatomy. I got each child their own small notebook to draw and label different plants and leaves. They also had a scavenger hunt to find different leaves then compare their shape, margin, and venation to the photos provided in our Exploration Guide. This was a great introductory project to get the kids excited about starting their experiment and learning about plants in general.

Setting up the experiment was the most exciting part for the kids. For this, there are three pages where the experiment plans are written out and charted. After we had written out what variables we would change and labeled the vials, the experiment was ready to be set up. Of the twelve vials provided, four must mimic those on the ISS’s exact conditions, but the other eight vials are open for the kids to decide what variables to change in them. I think this was the most exciting part for them. They kept high hopes of their variables getting better results than the scientists on the International Space Station!

We kept it simple and labeled our vials alphabetically with A-D, mimicking the vials on the ISS. For the rest of our variables, we changed the amount of growth medium used and the water/growth medium’s color to observe if growth was stunted or sped up when the water was different colors.

We spent the next 24 days observing, and in the beginning, it seemed as though our careful efforts would not be rewarded. Have you heard the phrase “a watched pot never boils”? HA! Try watching tiny seeds grow day by day! But finally, on day six, we had our first sprout, and you would have thought my kids won the lottery! They were so excited to finally have some real results to compare with the astronauts’ results. It did appear that our plants grew at a slower rate than those on the ISS, and we had a few variables at play here. Our growth medium did not set up correctly, and it was winter. Though they said a grow light is unnecessary, I would advise having one if it is not a sunny season when you conduct this experiment.

While we did have some sprouts in all our yellow growth medium containers, we only had one blue and two with no color containers with sprouts. We also measured the sprouts’ length over time, though ours never grew to the sprouts’ size on the International Space Station.

Overall, this was great fun. The idea that the kids were “Space Farmers” and doing something here that was being done or had been done in space was fascinating to them. This was a great tool to use for botany-based science. The study of plant parts and leaf types was great for an upper elementary or middle school group but was not so difficult to follow that my Kindergarten level child could not keep up.

More than just studying plants, though, this project was a great way to introduce the scientific process in general. We had to ask several questions, form a hypothesis, set up control and variable situations, conduct, troubleshoot, and analyze and communicate our results. We compared our results to those done by professionals, which gave the kids an extra boost of enthusiasm and feeling of responsibility, which was beautiful to watch.

Though a little bare, the website has some great videos from astronauts and scientists in the field. There are a few worksheets on the website for fun, and there are copies of the book pages on the website available for download should you need extras as well.

One main issue we had in conducting the actual experiment was mixing the growth medium. We followed the instructions exactly; however, ours never hardened into a gel, and we believe this affected our plant growth. Because of this, we will be doing this experiment again, but that is what experiments are for, right? I feel that the instructions could be a bit clearer on what the growth medium should look like during the process because we followed the instructions exactly. Though our solution became transparent, it never turned into a gel. While this was frustrating, we still had plant growth, so we chalked it up to another changed variable and documented it.

The Space Farmer Dream Kit from DreamUp PBC was something we enjoyed and a tremendous learning opportunity for our family. While we ran into a slight issue with the growth medium, and the website could be upgraded to add more information and opportunity, the experiment itself was a delight. The kids were able to learn about plant and leaf parts and the scientific process and things like microgravity and gravitropism, which are terms even I have not heard of until this kit came our way. We are excited that the kit came with enough of the growth medium to experiment two more times and compare our own variables against the new variables we create.

-Product Review by Cecilia Young, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2021