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Question: Does compost material help plants grow? Use this worksheet and lab to explore the topic of composting.

Grade level:
For high school students, this lesson could probably be altered to be done in groups with minimal guidance. For middle school environments its best to keep the materials on one table and do a demonstration with the assistance of volunteers.

Science: biology, botany, plant science, food webs, ecology, earth’s natural cycles, geology

Students learn the what goes into compost and how it is made. Students will also be asked to observe and compare the how well home-made compost works against store-bought soil. The lesson is best used as a review of several related concepts. Good for the end of the year to review for exams, finals, or standardized tests. Also makes a good, straight-forward, scientific method activity.

Students are shown compost at varying stages. Describe and ask students to identify, parts of the compost. Explain which parts provide nitrogen, and what parts provide carbon. If there are worms in the compost, describe the roll of decomposers. Tailor this section to whatever lesson you want to review.

Materials needed:
-Freshly-discarded table scraps suitable for composting.
-Somewhat decomposed organic matter. Compost should be in the “smelly” stage.
-activated carbon
-finished compost
-store-bought soil
-two potted plant containers that drain
-package of seeds of your preferred plant.
-disposable gloves.

Composting must be done well in advance. Contact local gardening clubs or community gardens to see if they can provide some at various stages.
Mix activated carbon into the compost to reduce the smell of decaying vegetable matter.

hands-on activity.
synthesizes multiple lessons that are usually taught separately.
Great introduction to a highly useful skill.
straight-forward scientific method activity

Compost can smell REALLY bad.
might be difficult to acquire multiple stages of compost.

Compost v. potting soil experiment:
Using a 50:50 ratio of compost to potting soil, fill one plant pot.
Fill the other pot with all potting soil.
Place a few seeds in each pot.
Ask students to chart the height of plants at specific time intervals. Have students keep observation journals or record the data on a big chart in the classroom.

Composting Lab and Worksheet

On Video Games and Compost: Reflections on the Year

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Looking back on the year, it would be safe to say that I spent a majority of my time actively observing. I was asking students and the teachers about what their perspectives on technology: how they used it, and its roll in the classroom. I’ve also been paying attention to testing methods, and the structure of curriculums. These various topics might not seem connected, but in practice, they are intimately related.

My first contribution to the GK-12 grant was the development of DNA Rockstar! in collaboration with RPI’s Product Design Studio (PDI). This game was meant to teach the four base pairs of DNA along with some other basic genetic vocabulary. The game utilized a familiar music-playing metaphor to teach the basic concept that musical notes and DNA base pairs have similar relationships to songs and organisms respectively. The game garnered interest within the GK-12 program, earning awards at the annual GK-12 conference in Washington D.C. It has also been accepted to the poster session of the 2011 Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy. Future  plans include a version 2.0 to be developed in late summer of 2011.

DNA Rockstar! isn’t the first (or even the best) example of appropriating entertainment technology for educational purposes. Mmore than anything, it was an exercise in redefining what an educational tool can be. The premise of the game was not radically innovative, and was sort of the point. Education must not stand alone as radically different from students’ lives outside the classroom. Kids’ attention is a hot commodity. Companies spend millions of dollars getting their attention to consume. While work must be done to make these sorts of corporate actions more humane, educators must do what they can, within their limited financial means, to provide another tactile experience. Active monitoring of what is popular with children should be a part of teachers’ pedagogy.

Later in the year, students review past topics in preparation for state administered exams. The urge to review topics in an abbreviated but similar format to the original instruction, makes sense on the surface. Reinforcing previous lessons refreshes the students’ memories and gets them ready for tests that cover a wide range of material. Mastery of the material however, does not come from rote repetition, but from viewing the same subject from various perspectives. That is why I created a lesson around composting to teach various biology and ecology lessons. Composting involves food webs, the carbon and nitrogen cycle, nutrition, plant biology, pH, organic chemistry, sustainability studies, and the scientific method. This hands-on activity allowed students to review material that had originally been taught months apart, giving them a more holistic picture of what was once disparate topics.

Students were asked to recall the carbon and nitrogen cycles. Emphasis was placed on how gaseous nitrogen is fixed in a form that plants can use. I noted that the material that came from my kitchen (this lesson had the added benefit of showing that science has a practical application at home, not just in labs) was high in nitrogen, and stuff that came from my lawn was high in carbon. This made sense since, as part of the nitrogen cycle, animals (humans), consume plants (producers) in order to gain nitrogen and other nutrients. We then used the compost to plant pea seeds and designed an experiment to compare compost with store-bought potting soil.

Projects such as composting are a great way to review topics already covered. Hands-on projects that combine different lessons offer an opportunity to show students the practical applications of  abstract topics, and investigate the interconnectedness of different science topics.

For my second year, I hope to design new lessons that bridge conventional curriculums, such that students are presented with a more interconnected view of science topics. By centering scientific investigation on a tangible object (such as compost) students should gain a deeper understanding of distinct topics. I also hope to improve DNA Rockstar! and make it a better, more immersive, learning technology.