Although the school gardens may be resting, Seed to STEM is growing; Gateway Greening is now working directly with fourth grade classes at Gateway Elementary. Gateway Greening and the fourth graders are full of enthusiasm for the new partnership, which is fortunate since January is all about energy!
The Gateway Greening Education Team has been hard at work building off of classroom lessons about different forms of energy to bring energy to life in the garden and classroom. The fourth graders searched for forms of energy inside and out. They discovered a chilly, wintry day is the best time to explore how to use thermal energy to get warm. Then the students were ready to get their hands dirty to see energy conservation in action.
Discussions about energy and indoor lessons are the perfect time to introduce worms and vermicomposting. Vermicomposting systems are easy to set up in the classroom and are a great jumping off point for lessons on energy use, decomposition, habitat, and more. The lesson began when the students first observed a completed composting worm bin system and determined what made it a functional habitat for red wiggler worms. Each student had a chance to smell, touch, and study the food, worms, and soil in the compost bin. They realized that the “soil” was actually worm castings: nutrient rich worm poop. (The general reaction was, you guessed it: “Gross!”) For some fourth graders it was their first time holding a worm. Other students excitedly held and measured their worms.
Once the students understood how vermicomposting worked, they created their own mini composting bins. Using plastic containers, newspaper, and leaves, they put together what they thought would be the best possible habitat for the red wigglers. After moistening the shredded newspaper and adding air holes, the students introduced the worms to their new habitats. The last class of the day even added leftover vegetable scraps from the cafeteria to the bins for the worms to feast on.
In the coming weeks, the fourth graders at Gateway Elementary will observe how the worms use the vegetable scraps. They will make connections between conserving energy and using food waste to benefit the garden. Once the students move their worms to a larger vermicomposting system, they will start participating in the Gateway Greening Compost Challenge. Will they produce more compost or more food waste than your school?
By Lucy Herleth, Gateway Greening Youth Educator