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Disappearing Act

How Fast Do Different Biodegradable & Compostable Materials Decompose?

Secondary

Description

In taking hundreds of years to decompose, plastics present a major challenge in the effective management and disposal of solid waste. In response, researchers have been developing new materials that decompose more quickly for use in the manufacture of many household items. In this guided inquiry students will construct a cold (indoor) composter to test the efficacy of some biodegradable alternatives to plastics found in commonly used products. In completing the project students will discover the benefits of recycling nutrients through composting as well as the role played by organic material, microorganisms and other factors in the process.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • how to construct a composter
  • how to compost
  • how to use a digital scale
  • how to control variables in a scientific inquiry

Strengths

  • The resource provides an impressive amount of support for the project for both teachers and students including a direct 'ask an expert' link.
  • Most of the materials required to complete the project are readily available
  • The project is an excellent exercise in guided inquiry.
  • The project is very hands-on and relevant to the student's own experience.

Weaknesses

  • In the background to the inquiry, greater attention could be paid to the extent of the problem created by the use of plastics
  • Student reflection related to the environmental, economic and social aspects of plastics use and composting could be explicitly required.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This project will serve as a valuable extension to the study of nutrient cycles, solid waste (pollution & management) and applied chemistry across a number of subjects and grade levels.  Students could choose to test (in addition to the materials identified in the procedure) other common products identified as as biodegradable ('poop' bags, garbage bags, printer paper, toilet paper)

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

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  • Alberta
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    • Grade 9
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      • Science
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        • Environmental Chemistry
        • Knowledge and Employability Science: Environmental Chemistry (Social and Environmental Contexts Emphasis)
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        • Science 10-4 (Knowledge and Employability Science): Investigating Matter and Energy in Environmental Systems
        • Science 14:Investigating Matter and Energy in the Environment
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        • Science 20-4 (Knowledge and Employability Science): Applications of Matter and Chemical Change
        • Science 24:Applications of Matter and Chemical Change
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        • Science 30: Chemistry and the Environment
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        • Environmental Science 11: Changing ecosystems are maintained by natural processes.
        • Environmental Science 11: Human practices affect the sustainability of ecosystems
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        • Senior 2 Science: Dynamics of Ecosystems
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        • Advanced Environmental Science 120: Earth Systems
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        • Science 1206: Sustainability of Ecosystems
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        • Science 2200: Ecosytems
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        • Environmental Science 3205: Introduction to Environmental Science
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        • Science 10-4 (Knowledge and Employability Science): Investigating Matter and Energy in Environmental Systems
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        • Science 20-4:Applications of Matter and Chemical Change
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        • Science 30: Chemistry and the Environment
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        • Science 10: Sustainability of Ecosystems
  • Nunavut
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        • Chemistry and the Environment
        • Knowledge and Employability Science: Environmental Chemistry (Social and Environmental Contexts Emphasis)
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        • Science 10-4 (Knowledge and Employability Science): Investigating Matter and Energy in Environmental Systems
        • Science 14: Investigating Matter and Energy in the Environment
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      • Science
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        • Science 24:Applications of Matter and Chemical Change
    • Grade 12
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      • Science
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        • Science 30: Chemistry and the Environment
  • Ontario
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        • Science (Academic):Biology: Sustainable Ecosystems
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        • Science (Applied)::Chemistry: Chemical Reactions and Their Practical Applications
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        • Science (Workplace Preparation): Chemicals in Consumer Products
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        • Science 421A: Sustainability of Ecosystems
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        • Environmental Science 621A: Environmental Challenges and Successes
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        • Science 10: Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics
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        • Life Science: Sustainability of Ecosystems
    • Grade 11
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      • Science & Technology
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        • Science Module: Applled Chemistry

Themes Addressed

  • Waste Management (4)

    • Composting
    • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Solid Waste Disposal
    • Source Reduction

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

Students are provided with a wide range of information to independently assess the findings of their inquiry.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Satisfactory

The environmental concerns related to the issue of handling solid waste and recycling materials via composting are dealt with explicitly.  Students are specifically asked to consider the question 'why compost', providing an excellent opportunity to also discuss the economic and social considerations related to the use of plastics and waste management.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

The ample information available to students in support of their inquiry adequately addresses the scope and complexity of the problems and solutions related to a reliance on plastics in manufacturing. 

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Poor/Not considered

While no attention is given to applying what has been learned for the benefit of the community such a project would seem a natural and doable next step.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Poor/Not considered

Opportunities for reflection exist throughout the inquiry but there are no explicit instructions for students to do so.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

Not considered

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Satisfactory

More attention could be given to the extent of the problem created by plastics in the environment

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

The inquiry examines familiar products and an issue that is highly relevant to their own experience.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Satisfactory

Some attention is paid to the past, present and future role of plastics in the manufacture of many everyday products.  Students should complete this project with optimism in the progress being made through increased use of biodegradable alternatives and composting.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

The project is built on scientific inquiry.  Students design an experiment to find answers to a question.  What happens, happens.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Poor/Not considered

There is limited overlap or blending of subject areas in this scientific inquiry. 

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Poor/Not considered

There is little effort made explicitly in this project to address a range of learning styles or abilities.  Any modifications required will be the responsibility of the teacher.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Good

This highly 'hands-on' project deals with familiar materials in a real-world context.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

Although not explicitly stated, the inquiry design lends itself to being carried out in cooperative groups

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Poor/Not considered

Suggestions and tools for assessment/evaluation are not included with the resource.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Poor/Not considered

Not considered

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

Several applicable case studies are included in the background material for teachers and students.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

Like other 'science buddies' projects, ideas and opportunities for student-driven investigation are provided in the "make it your own" section of the resource.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.