Last November, Delila Leber a kindergarten teacher from Mount View Elementary school submitted an Excel Grant application with the most inventive grant title in the history of grant titles and what she wanted to do with the grant was pretty cool too!
Here’s what she told us: “At our school, we have a beautiful garden space that was set up by a teacher who retired 6 years ago. Included in our space are two worm bins. We have done small amounts of gardening on and off, but I am now ready to take on Garden Science as a year-round endeavor! We have already begun clearing the beds of weeds and will be adding leaves as mulch this week.”
In the Dual Language program, our students have 45-60 minutes per day of science instruction in Spanish. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, our students learn about worms and other backyard animals. Both the 1st Grade Spanish teacher and I teach 52-54 students each: we would adopt one of the worm bins with our classes and would plant vegetables & herbs in the garden. We would be able to use the nonperishable materials year after year, and if the worm bins are maintained well, the worms would survive for many years’ worth of classes.
Each bin will use 2-2.5 lbs of redworms to start, and the remainder will be used in the classroom for a comparison study. We will use the coconut-hair based “bricks” as bedding for the worm bins. We will use the digital thermometers to test the temperature in the bins and maintain appropriate conditions for the worms. The moisture meters will also be used to test for moisture to see if the bins need further water or dry materials added. The Soil pH meter will be used to test the pH level of the bins to see if we need to adjust it. We would plant a variety of vegetable and herb seeds in the garden and the classroom to compare how they grow under different conditions. In addition, one of the preschool teachers will plant some of the seeds with her class in the garden.
Our students would gain:
- Hands-on experience caring for worms. We would keep some worms in the classroom for a comparison study of decomposition to trace how different conditions affect how quickly they process food. We would chart our observations and share what we learn with the larger school community.
- Greater awareness of reducing food waste and an understanding of how worms turn food into good soil. We have a wonderful new Breakfast in the Classroom at our school, which leads to quite a bit of food waste that we could be gathering during the week for worms to compost instead of throwing it in the trash. Students could teach their families how to set up worm bins at home as well!
- Knowledge of how compost helps plants grow better in the garden. We will compare plants in the classroom and the garden grown with and without compost, to track which ones grow faster.
The results? Amazing of course!
Students in my Spanish Dual Language Kindergarten classroom and the 1st grade Spanish classroom established successful worm bins in our classrooms and have been maintaining them for the last six months.
- We made observations about the growth of seed starts in the classroom and weeded our garden beds to get ready to plant over the winter.
- We collected bags and bags of leaves to mulch our garden beds once they were ready, which tied into our unit on Trees and helped them understand the process of decomposition.
- Students planted onion sets, garlic, spinach, peas, cilantro, squash and broccoli in our garden beds and kept journals to monitor growth.
- We monitored our garden beds and worm bins with a digital thermometer, moisture meter and ph meter, which introduced them to the concept of scientific measurements.
This unit connected many of our Foss science kits (Trees, Weather, Animals 2×2, Wood and Paper) and engaged them in backyard science that they could try at home.
Students have been thrilled to learn about worms and to see plants grow in the garden.
They have developed an appreciation for all forms of animals and have learned how worms contribute to their ecosystem by producing helpful worm castings. One student’s grandmother told me that they were buying seed starts to plant at home and the student said that they were not ready to plant yet because they needed worms in their garden! Another student was so inspired that she brought in plants from home to plant in our garden.
Students, on their own initiative, reminded others to save food scraps for the worms by making signs to put by our trash cans. Students who were afraid of worms in the beginning are now very comfortable getting their hands dirty in the garden and handling worms. Most importantly, students have had excellent questions and observations. This unit has impacted 102 students this year and I plan to continue using the resources year after year with my students!
I plan to keep the worms and gardening alive over the summer with a volunteer family/student garden club at the school.