Welcome to the high school challenge page for Challenge 6 of the Fairchild Challenge! Read below to find challenge information, entry requirements, resources and more for the challenge.

Challenge 6

Title: Digging Up the Data

For Individuals or Groups | Maximum points: 200

Due Date: Fri., April 28, 2023 by 5 p.m.

Download Challenge 6 Rubric

Your Challenge:

Introduction: Here at Phipps, we’re known for our love of plants and gardening. Phipps Conservatory has 14 rooms full of beautifully maintained gardens containing plants from all over the world as well as multiple outdoor gardens and landscapes.  The plants in our gardens have very specific requirements to grow as beautifully as they do. Having the proper conditions for plants to grow is key to a successful garden, and the way we determine those conditions is by collecting data!

Challenge: Your challenge is to collect data to determine the perfect garden design for a specific location! First, choose a real location for your garden, perhaps an easily accessible site like your school or in your neighborhood. Next, you will collect data from that location, which might include soil analysis, rainfall amounts, a sun map, and other factors that could influence plant growth (examples listed under “data collection resources” below). We have resources listed below to help you collect accurate data. What do all these data tell you about the plants that would thrive in your garden location? Present your data in scientific method format through a written report, guidebook, or trifold poster. After you’ve analyzed your findings, pick out which plants grow best in your garden location based on the sunlight, soil, and weather data you’ve collected and why. You may choose to include a drawing of your garden design in addition to a written description if desired.  You also may choose to have a specific theme or purpose for your garden, such as habitat for animals, pollinator food source, rain garden, native plants or fruit, vegetable, or herb garden. Please explain why these plants suit your garden theme or purpose.

Entry Requirements: Deliver to the Fairchild Challenge coordinator at Phipps in person or via certified mail. Written reports and guidebooks can be submitted electronicly via email to jtorrance@phipps.conservatory.org

  • Challenge Entry Form, include the school name and the participating students’ names
  • Your submission should be a written report, guidebook, or trifold board that includes the specific location you chose, all of the data you collected, and your recommendations for plants to grow in that location.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Fairchild Challenge c/o Jennifer Torrance
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Data Collection Resources:

  • Soil: Your soil can be analyzed in a number of ways. We recommend doing some of the DIY soil tests listed below to check the moisture, composition, organic material/soil health, pH, etc. of your soil:
    • 3 DIY Soil Tests - Farmer’s Almanac (scroll down to find the DIY section)
    • 4 Ways to Test Your Soil - The Spruce
    • You can also use mapping tool to determine the composition of your soil (if your soil has more clay, sand, or silt): Web Soil Survey - Home (usda.gov)
      • Instructions: click on “START WSS” and fill in your information – including your Area of Interest (AOI) which can be selected by pressing the AOI icon at the top of the map and dragging your mouse over the desired plot of land, but don’t zoom in too close! Click “set AOI” and then click on the tabs for Soil Map, etc to see the data.
  • Sun Map: Sun-mapping your garden shows you which spaces have full sun, partial sun, and shade. This way you can match the plants you choose with the appropriate amount of sun for them to thrive.
    • For sun-mapping by hand, create a map your garden space, make several copies your map, and mark the sunlight and shade on a new copy of the map every few hours. At the end of the day, compare the maps to determine the amounts of sun and shade throughout your garden. You can find more detailed instructions here: Garden Fundamentals – Sun Mapping a Garden 
    • You can also use apps to track the sunlight in your garden space. This link gives an example of how to use an app to create a sun map: Permaculture Map #2 - The Sun Map
  • Water/Weather: You can easily make a homemade rain gauge to monitor the amount of water your garden is receiving over the course of a week or two (or more!) Feel free to set up multiple rain gauges around your garden space to see if tree or building cover impacts your rain collection at all.
  • Other Factors: Please examine your garden space closely for other factors that may influence plant growth. Is there a lot of human or animal activity? Do you observe pest bugs on plants that already exist in that space? Are there nearby sources of pollution? Is there not a lot of wind or too much wind? Are there aggressive-growing or invasive plants already in this location?

 Garden Design and Purpose Resources: 


  • Grades Nine – Twelve

    • CC.3.5.11-12.I Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
    • CC.3.6.9-10.B Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes […]
    • CC.3.6.11-12.C Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • CC.1.4.9-10.B Write with a sharp distinct focus identifying topic, task, and audience.
    • CC.1.4.9-10.F Demonstrate a grade-appropriate command of the conventions of standard English grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
    • 15.3.12.I Synthesize information gathered from multiple sources (e.g., digital, print, face to face).
    • 15.3.12.P Demonstrate leadership communication skills through delegating, negotiating, goal setting, and generating ideas.
    • 3.4.10.C1 Apply the components of the technological design process.
    • 4.4.10.A Explain the relationships between and among the components of the food and fiber system.
    • 4.4.10.B Analyze the effects of agriculture on a society’s economy, environment, standard of living, and foreign trade.

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