I spend pretty much the last quarter of my freshmen biology class on the environment. I tried a new project this year, and I loved it. But more importantly, most of the kids loved it too! They made their own compost containers and then we ran them for about 6 weeks to test their effectiveness.
The district I teach in is very rural. Some families don’t even have garbage pick-up, let alone curbside recycling programs. So a lot of my students don’t think twice about throwing out EVERYTHING. I started by having them keep track of all the waste produced in their house for a week and what was done with it (garbage, recycle, or compost). Then we broke down that list into what could be done differently. This also led to a lesson on zero-waste communities.
So for their compost containers, they worked in groups (which I assigned). I tried to give each group a more creative person, a good leader, and a hands on learner. It was definitely different from who they normally worked with. So the first document below is the work they did together. They researched what compost is and how it works. Then they did design. I gave them pretty free range over the internet, but told them they had to bring in all their own supplies. I expected to get 30 buckets with holes in the bottom, but they actually had a lot of different ideas (I of course forgot to get their pictures off the iPads before they deleted them). I gave them one class period to build them…. power tools and duct tape galore!
Then they used the data sheets (kept in their science notebook) to keep their data every 2-3 days. We kept them out in the greenhouse. They definitely get smelly. About halfway through (~20 days), they had to present to the class what was working well and needed improving about their design. Then the next day they could make those changes.
At the end, we took them all apart and they had to turn in their analysis. I gave them the template (below) on googledrive and they filled in their own answers.
So in the end, there were a few reasons I loved this project: #1- We got to go outside. #2- This gave the hands on kids a chance to shine and really take charge for a change. #3- Kids could see the results happening in front of them. They had opportunities to ask questions and work out the answers.