A School Composting Program Turns into Deep Learning
At Fay, Project-Based Learning (PBL) is integrated into our Science and Social Studies curriculum. PBL is a teaching method where "students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects." PBL, fittingly, supports Fay's efforts to achieve Priority 4 of our strategic plan – to strengthen community partnerships. One new partnership that Fay formed this year is with Moonshot Compost to help with the school's Composting Program.
Moonshot Compost is a company that collects food scraps to transform them into healthy soil. Initially, this partnership was Fay's way of decreasing the food waste we produce on campus. It also tracks Fay's waste diversion, or how much food waste The Fay School has helped redirect from landfills, by creating Fay's Diversion Dashboard. When Moonshot empties Fay's compost bins and brings that material to their facility, they weigh the amount of material picked up (in pounds) and track the total over time.
After numerous conversations with the Moonshot Compost team, Fay designed an authentic learning experience that will help positively impact Fay's Campus and potentially the greater Houston community by charging our Fifth Graders to answer the question:
How does matter move among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment?
You may be asking yourself, "what does compost have to do with science, math, or social studies?" Below is a summary of the scope of this PBL unit that all Fifth Grade Leaders participated in:
- What subject areas does this PBL unit help reinforce? This unit was primarily focused on Life Science (Next Generation Science Standards). Students were also reading informational texts on related content, such as current events articles describing what some companies, such as Google and Disney, are doing to eliminate food waste. Math is also in this PBL Unit since students track and graph the information reported on Fay's Diversion Dashboard.
- How were the Fifth Grade Leaders introduced to the project? First, Fifth Grade Lead Teacher, Barbara Duecker, presented the driving question, How does matter move among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment? After some discussion, students developed their "need to knows." "Need to knows" are powerful questions generated by students about what they want to seek answers for about the driving question. Shortly after, members of the Moonshot Compost Team visited with Fifth Graders to educate them about the environmental benefits of composting and answer some of their "need to knows." Students also had the opportunity to pass around nutrient-rich soil so students could feel and smell the difference.
- What research or science experiments did Fifth Grade leaders conduct? The Fifth Graders conducted their experiments and created mini compost jars and mini landfill jars to compare the differences over time.Materials in the compost jar began to break down over time, unlike candy wrappers and other non-degradable materials in the landfill jars. They made predictions and recorded observations in a science journal. They also participated in a jigsaw activity with articles reflecting current events, searched for decomposers in the Fay Forest, and read informational texts to thoroughly understand how matter moves among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment. These Fifth Grade students now have a deep understanding of the interdependent relationships of healthy ecosystems, specifically how almost all food that most animals eat can be traced back to plants!
- How was this learning experience shared with Fay's Campus? Teams of Fifth Graders were given an audience to prepare presentations for (e.g., Kindergarten class, Third Grade class, Adults on campus). They collaborated to develop a rubric in which they will be assessed based on Engagement, Presentation, and Content. They all communicated the same goal – to decrease the amount of organic waste going to landfills by composting at The Fay School. Each Fifth-Grade team focused on delivering a meaningful and engaging presentation to a specific audience. For example, in the presentation for adults on campus, students promoted Fay's new kitchen caddies to collect coffee grounds throughout the day. Other presentations included student-created games so that our younger students could understand the content. Through their presentations, these Fifth Graders inspired their audiences to do their part to help achieve Fay’s goal!
- So what is next? Students will keep track of Fay's composting totals by tracking Fay's Diversion Dashboard. In addition, The Fay School and Moonshot Compost are discussing ways to use the nutrient-rich soil produced at the Moonshot Compost facility in the Fay Farm! Using Moonshot Compost's soil will help reinforce this lesson, bringing it full circle when Fay's food scraps turned into the soil to help grow the vegetables on the Fay Farm!
The impact of this project has had a ripple effect on Fay's campus. Our Fifth Grade Leaders educated the Fay community about what to place in the compost and how this positively impacts the greater community (minimizes landfill size, enriches the soil, minimizes chemicals, etc.). In turn, these students are helping create a culture of change around how people view food waste in Houston.
All children can develop a deeper understanding of content when the curriculum is integrated, recognizing the learning purpose. At Fay, we create opportunities for our students to impact our campus and the greater community. We cultivate student voice, leadership, and engagement! Thank you to the Class of 2022 for helping Fay make the most out of our compost!
About the Author:
Alex Smith is the Learning Specialist at The Fay School. She is enthusiastic about creating authentic learning experiences for kids through Project Based Learning. Seeing this group of Fifth Graders advocate for change was extra special because they were her students in both First and Third Grades! Alex holds a BS in Elementary Education and a BS in Child Studies from Vanderbilt University and a M.Ed. in Special Populations from the University of Houston.