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I think the best way to get started is to either visit with a gardening store for advice or enlist the help of a Master Gardener (you can find someone in your area here Master Gardeners | American Horticultural Society) to assist you in setting up the traditional dirt garden part of your challenge. Master Gardeners have to obtain many volunteer hours to gain the designation and many have some great cost cutting ideas that could add to the project tremendously.
If you follow the guidelines of a creating a protocol and growing the same things in both the Tower Garden and the container garden, you should have a strong project. I find that growing greens (any varietal of lettuce) is the quickest and simplest thing to grow, and then you can have a salad party after harvesting!
Good luck and the best advice I ever received from a farm manager at a local school was that even failures are a learning opportunity for students, and on some cases they learn more from mistakes than they might have from a success. Happy growing!