Grade 5 Inquiry Project Based Learning: Establishing a school food waste collection and composting system
At the beginning of this semester, Grade 5 students embarked on an Inquiry into the real-life situation “Global Warming is affecting our Earth”. Students analyzed the causes and effects of Global Warming and identified that one of the major contributors to Global Warming was the excessive production of greenhouse gases around the world.
As students realized that this severe problem needed to be solved, they started to collaborate and create real-life solutions to reducing the life-threatening impact of greenhouse gases. Amongst all the solutions, they identified that planting trees was the most doable and sustainable solution for our school, and the best location to use within our school would be the school’s nature garden.
This became the connection that students built between the big idea “Global Warming is affecting our Earth” and the PBL Driving Question “How can we build a sustainable nature garden?”
The PBL Driving Question “How can we build a sustainable nature garden?” became the new main focus, at this point.
Students explored what were the current problems/issues in the school nature garden.While doing this, they realised that they did not quite know the details of what exactly made up an actual garden, so they took steps into learning about the many components that makes up a garden. This ensured that they knew exactly what is needed to create a garden, and what would be needed to make our current garden into amore sustainable nature garden.
At this point, students used the Compass Points thinking routine (Excitements / Worries / Needs / Suggestions) to voice their questions about the PBL problem “How can we build a sustainable nature garden?” and formed a question chain based on the driving question. Students then sensibly noticed that the nature garden project was not something that could be done in a short timeframe. So they divided the entire ‘School Nature Garden’ project into several sub-projects.
After critical analysis, they decided that the ‘Soil +Compost’ project should be worked on first.
Before they could begin working on the ‘Soil + Compost’ project – students realized that they needed to have a deeper understanding about soil and compost. They reasoned that the quality of the school nature garden soil needed to be improved completely before they could continue further with developing our sustainable school nature garden. At this stage of the PBL project, they learnt about Permaculture (the concept, the methodology, the philosophy, and the way of living) and how it would guide them in sustainably improving the soil quality.
Essentially, compost is known as ‘food for soil’ and this is the best way towards improving the quality of the soil naturally, in our school nature garden. So, we introduced that the final product of this sub-project would be the design of our school food waste collection and composting system. Students then explored all aspects of compost – learning about what it is, how it’s made, and the many different methods. After a lot of research and reading about different methods of composting in their PBL groups, students reasoned about whichcomposting methods would be most suitable for the nature garden, as well as the easiest to implement in our school. Students also took a school walk to investigate the sources, types and quantity of food waste in our school, in order to identify the proper food waste collection sites and compost sites on campus.
To further support and guide the students, we also invited a guest lecturer – PDC certificated designer Tai Xian Lao Shi (aka ‘Mr. Moss’), to share his advice about improving soil quality using composting and which methods would be best for our school.
Heeding Mr. Moss’s advice, students chose worm tower and sheet mulching as the two composting methods to help reuse our raw vegetable and fruit peels in our school. They had a lot of fun decorating the PVC pipes in the worm tower workshops. They also made posters and redesigned our rubbish bins to set up our food waste collection sites on each floor.
Incorporating a composting system within our school is not easy but students will have their system trial run this week. Who knows what new problems they will encounter and how they solve them? The only thing that we know is that, they will definitely find out their own solutions.