Before digging into the worm bin her class inherited, Deb Frantz, a teacher form Halifax, PA, had her fifth graders research the merits and basics of vermicomposting, then share what they had gleaned with one another. She then challenged each group of four students to remove a pile of material from the bin and sort the worms from the cocoons, from the nutrient-rich compost. "The sight of those fifth graders down on their hands and knees, oohing over the cocoons and baby worms was amazing," she adds. So began a year-long cycle of feeding, harvesting, and reclaiming food wastes.
Persuasive paper writing was an important part of the school's fifth grade curriculum. Drawing on students' newfound passion for worms offered an opportunity for cross-curriculum work. "After exploring the elements of persuasive writing, we decided to write convincing letters (as though to an editor) and design posters about why people should have worm bins," says Deb. Pairs of students first brainstormed why they thought cultivating worms was a must, then used a variety of sources to locate worm facts and wisdom to support their arguments. (The kids recommend the worm section of one of their favorite Web sites: www.yucky.com!)
Compelling student essays in the local paper ("Garbage-eating worms work silently, productively, and for free," says student Landon Reitz), caught the eye of staff at the statewide Department of Environmental Protection. "They were so impressed that they asked to meet the kids, presented them with a first-ever recycling award certificate, and featured the essays and posters on their Web site," explains Deb. This event, in turn, was highlighted via articles and photos in the local newspaper. "The kids were so excited by their brush with fame, they brainstormed how else they might reach out with their new worm literacy," she adds.