During units on ecology and the human body, students were invited to undertake a service-learning project. In collaboration with the school’s food service director and the nonprofit Association of Vermont Recyclers, they launched a composting effort that helped them understand the role that decomposers play in ecosystems (a standard in their curriculum).

After initial discussions about service-learning, students brainstormed possible projects, recording their ideas using a 2-4-8 model (working first in partners, then fours and eights). Further research involving videos, field trips to the local landfill and compost facility, guest speakers, and a “Science on the Green” event helped provide more information about potential problems. Teams of students presented their research (practicing persuasive speaking), and students voted on the primary problem they wanted to tackle -how to make their school healthier. The class broke into three groups through which every student cycled: cooking, gardening, and composting.

The class set up a worm bin to see if composting lunch scraps might be practical. Students then identified three possible solutions: compost classroom scraps only; compost kitchen and classroom scraps; or compost all lunch-related waste from the entire school. While data suggested that ‘whole school’ composting would be feasible over time, this measure could not be fully implemented during the project’s limited time frame.


For five months, students weighed scraps from the kitchen and classroom and took them to compost bins on the school property.

They entered their data on a Google spreadsheet and presented their findings. To help the school make the best selection for long-term composting, students purchased several composting bins and are comparing their functions and final outcomes. Data from this assessment may be used by a future class to help determine the school’s final choice of composters.
Integrating language arts into their science project, students wrote up composting reports. Team “town meetings,” class discussions, and small group work helped students maintain momentum and resolve problems.

Crossett Brook Middle School is a grantee of the Youth As Citizen Scientists: Data, Insight and Action through Service-Learning;
a collaboration with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) and KIDS Consortium.