Students gained math skills and ecological understanding studying how best to reduce food waste in their school cafeteria. Working closely with the food service director, custodians, school district facility managers, and the Director of Solid Waste for the town of Presque Isle, students shaped a multifaceted plan that cut in half the amount of food waste, and helped establish a beautiful butterfly and hummingbird garden.
After an introduction to service-learning using the KIDS Consortium What Is It? Game, students discussed the meaning of green and ecological footprint. They completed icebreaker and team-building activities and established group norms. Students planned a field trip to their local landfill and began observing how much waste the school generated.
After their initial discovery, students began scientific surveys of what foods were being discarded, separating items into categories, and using spreadsheets to track the daily weight of discarded food. Students established a separate reciprocal for food waste and monitored disposal of trays to make sure they separated their trash. Setting up this system helped students fulfill the standard that they plan, conduct, analyze data from, and communicate results of investigations. To help share their results and change student practices, they presented their project in each homeroom, urging students to take only what they can eat.
In meetings with the head cook, students suggested healthy foods options. To manage the reduced waste, students explored different means of composting and chose to use red wiggler worms. The rich worm castings fertilized the plants in their butterfly and hummingbird garden.
Students were highly engaged in this project throughout the school year, even in the final days before summer break. They received recognition in the school district’s newsletter and the local newspaper. Throughout the project, students used group discussions, essays and “exit tickets” to reflect on their progress and learning (which were assessed through post tests, and oral and written presentations).