Excitement is percolating in the pre-kindergarten classroom at Shady Side Academy's Country Day School, where young students are embarking on a hands-on STEM project focused on decomposition. The centerpiece of their study is an unassuming pumpkin.
As the students monitor the pumpkin's transformation, they will document each stage of decomposition, noting the transition from freshness to soil enrichment. This project is designed to reveal the natural processes of decay and the vital role they play in the ecosystem.
Courtney Anderson, the school librarian and STEM teacher, is guiding the students' exploration. The curriculum includes understanding how leaves, dead trees, and other organic materials break down over time. Fungi and invertebrates, critical to the composting process, are highlighted as natural agents that return nutrients to the earth.
A striking contrast will be made by also burying plastic waste in the school's garden alongside organic material. Come spring, students will excavate these items to examine and compare their rates of breakdown. This vivid demonstration aims to instill a sense of environmental stewardship and an understanding of sustainability in these early learners by directly engaging them with the tangible effects of biodegradable versus non-biodegradable materials.