Getting Hooked on Worms

By Eve Pranis

A million of them could live in an acre of soil. They can "eat" their own weight in soil and organic matter every day. They help recycle organic matter, making the nutrients available to plants through their rich castings, and they're easy to raise. With such potential for teaching environmental concepts, it's a wonder that more classrooms haven't gotten "hooked on worms." Here's one classroom highlight....

Zoo-Doo for Sale

The idea of creating a "biological garbage disposal" emerged when Sheana Godwin's Rose Hill, KS, seventh graders brain stormed how they could positively affect their environment. After researching the needs (and abilities) of worms, Sheana's students obtained red wigglers from a bait shop, purchased 5-gallon Rubbermaid tubs, measured out 500 grams of worms, shredded weeks' worth of newspapers, and were in business.

These seventh graders worked in groups to collect and weight trash daily from the cafeteria. After dividing the wight of the trash by the number of students eating at a given time, they tracked, graphed, and shared with fellow students how the volume of trash changed over time. The teams separated organic plant matter from other materials and fed it to the waiting worms. Said fellow teacher, Bev Leete, "We were all amazed with this wonderfully earthy-smelling soil-like fertilizer-dubbed 'zoo-doo' -- created by the worms."

Bev's class was so intrigued that they requested some zoo-doo to use in an experiment with NASA tomato plants. They raised three space tomato plants and three Earth tomato plants in both zoo-doo and potting mix. Students reported that, although the seeds were slower to germinate in the zoo-doo, they were much healthier looking, sturdier, and tastier when mature. They recommended, however, that the strong, rich worm castings be cut half and half with regular potting soil.

The seventh graders opted to market the remaining 35 pounds of the year's zoo-doo. They got a loan from the principal to finance the startup of their business, designed biological containers from recycled white bags, created an advertising campaign, and sold bags of zoo-doo to a local garden center for resale. "The students have become very aware of waste and some ways to recycle," said Sheana, "while honing their math and business skills. They have a firsthand understanding of how recycling in nature works."

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