During curriculum studies on energy, the conservation of matter, and sustainability, middle school science students undertook a project designed to lower the amount of paper waste their school generated. They sought to make their school “greener” by encouraging reuse of renewable resources. Working with STEM principles helped their teacher ground the project work in the science curriculum: “Curriculum Topic Study enlightened me directly on what my students needed to have,” observes Tricia Bragan, “and at what level they needed to understand it.”
Students began with a discussion of service-learning and gained comfort with the concept by playing KIDS Consortium’s What Is It? Game. After watching several documentaries (such as Garbage: the Revolution Starts at Home and Human Footprint) and attending an annual “Energy Education Extravaganza,” students began to research ways they could reduce waste within their school.
Students designed a school-wide survey to gather more information about student and teacher habits and current obstacles to reducing waste. After reviewing more than 100 responses, they realized that their school had only 5 recycling bins. They spent five weeks weighing and charting the volume of paper collected in those bins.
The students theorized that more bins would make recycling more convenient and increase the volume of paper recycled. They ordered additional bins. To evaluate the impact of the new bins, they tracked paper volumes for another five weeks. As anticipated, the volume of recycled paper increased significantly.
They discovered paper recycle bins were being used for garbage. It was clear they needed to educate the school community about recycling and the importance of separating materials. Students visited classrooms to talk about the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) helping reinforce their understanding of the energy curriculum by explaining the concept of recycling and its importance to others. Their local paper featured their project in a cover story, highlighting middle school students reading to first graders.
The school community was receptive and began inviting the students to help with other recycling challenges, such as composting food waste and grass clippings.