A composting worms project at school provides many opportunities to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the classroom. The school curriculum often covers the lifecycle of the earthworm. Students will retain more if they have hands-on experiences with the worms. A composting bin allows students to compost organic food waste generated at school. The composting process results in worm castings, a fertilizer for growing new plants. The project can easily pay for itself if the worm castings are put up for sale. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm shows you how to get started with a classroom composting project.
Customize the Project
Teachers can pick-and-choose the scope of the project and which STEM elements to include.
A minimal project would involve setting up a worm bin and depositing classroom waste. Many STEM elements can be included such as measuring trash volume before and during the project (math); worm anatomy; the decomposition process; and animal husbandry (science).
Projects could include:
- Scaling up to include multiple classrooms, the entire school, and the school cafeteria (engineering, since larger composting projects are more complex).
- Preparing a business plan and selling the worm finished compost. Calculate the break-even point and profits (math).
- Inventing composting-related automation systems (technology).
- Analyzing detailed measurements of the worm population, size, trash in, finished compost out, and reproduction (science and math).
How to Set Up a Classroom Composting Project
Choose a location for the composting bin. The best location would be the school greenhouse or garden, if you have one. If not, find a sheltered location outdoors on school property. The compost bin can stay indoors; however, unwanted odors may develop.
Ease-of-use is especially important in school programs. Students should be able to keep their clothing clean. The bin needs good drainage, and the finished compost should be simple to harvest. That’s why we recommend a tray-based composting bin. Several styles of tray-based composters are available from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. The bedding, worms and food go in one “active” tray. When that tray is full, add another tray on top. The worms will migrate up, evacuating the lower trays. This makes harvesting the finished compost very easy.
Alternatively, buy an outdoor composter from the local hardware store. Or, make a composter from a tote very cheaply — see our video and instructions. Composters can also be made from wood and nails.
Prepare bedding for the worm bin. Worm bins come with instructions, or see our bedding guide.
Order Red Worms for composting. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm is the #1 supplier of composting worms in the USA. The worms can be shipped to your home or school, or the local post office at your request. (Note: European Night Crawlers can also make compost, but not as quickly.)
The Big Day
The day the worms arrive will be a big day. Make sure the composter and bedding are ready. (Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm usually ships out from Pennsylvania at the beginning of the week.) When they arrive, they will be somewhat dehydrated and skinny. The sooner they get back into nice, dark, moist bedding, the better. Therefore, be ready to put them into the composter.
Ask the students to place the worms on top of the bedding. Explain how worms breathe through their skins. Therefore, they need to make tunnels down into the bedding so that they can get air. If the students buried the them, the little creatures would be unable to breathe.
Also, leave the bin lid off for a while. Explain that worms are photophobic (don’t like light). Shine a light on the worms to make them dig down faster. Take photos and time how long it takes for all the worms to disappear into the bedding.
Discuss the types of foods that worms like to eat. Fruits and vegetables are healthy for both humans and worms. Junk food is not. Don’t allow meat, oils or dairy products in the bin. Students should break up larger scraps into smaller pieces. Discuss the surface area of large pieces versus small. Scraps break down faster when they are buried — why? How does the decomposition process work?
Instruct students on hygiene. They must wash hands thoroughly after handling food scraps, worms, or the compost bin.
After a few months, the students can harvest the worm castings. This finished compost can be applied to classroom plants or sold.
Worms can be left alone on the weekends. However, someone needs to attend to them during long school breaks.
Learning and Having Fun with Worms
Thousands of schools have purchased Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm Red Worms for composting projects. Starting a classroom composting program is hands-on STEM. Students will remember these lessons. Start your classroom or school-wide composting program today!