A lot of what we teach in middle school science – carbon cycle, soil formation, recycling of matter, nitrogen cycle – relates to decomposition. Here are a few good ideas to implement in your decomposition unit plan in your middle school science classroom.
It helps to start the year with a brief unit explaining how things decompose and how that fits into the ecosystem.
I teach it from 2 different angles – compost and detective work.
My students have no idea what compost is. We’re a suburban upper middle class school district. Perhaps they have a tomato plant or two in their garden, but compost is foreign to them. So I start the year with some facts about compost. Let’s see how much you know.
Turns out every one of those statements is true. (TBH I was a little surprised about the masking tape.)
Once you have them hooked on compost, use some informational text to help them learn more. I use a “newspaper” type of text coupled with some guiding questions.
Middle schoolers love gore, and I indulge them a little in my decomposition unit plan. We talk about what happens to the human body, or any animal, when it decomposes and how detectives use the predictability of decay to determine the time of death. I show them a slide show that is (disappointingly, to them) devoid of photos of decaying bodies and then ask them to imagine how a detective can use this information. Then they use what they’ve learned to complete a creative writing task.
Continue to press on with an experiment. You know the one – you put various compostable objects and some that aren’t compostable into zipper bags and then check them out every few weeks to see how they change. Every middle schooler loves to watch things decompose. Include this lab in your middle school decomposition unit plan and your kids will love it!
Finally, wrap it all up with ties to the carbon cycle (and global warming) and the nitrogen cycle.