Students who participated in plant and soil science projects as part of an integrated eco-friendly curriculum saw improved scores in science, math, social studies, and reading according to a fact sheet from the National Wildlife Federation. Teachers also reported improvements in social skills and citizenship. Working with plants and soil teaches practical lessons in growing as well as generalized lessons on how people influence the soil and the environment using smart landscaping practices.
Grasses need roots to support the growing blades and provide nutrition. Grass affects the environment by controlling erosion of top soil. Students can create interesting and relevant science projects that show the impact of mowing height on grass root development. To demonstrate the effect of mowing height on root development, the student should select three turf grass areas. Beginning in the spring, mow sections of grass at 1/2, 1 and 2 inch heights. Make sure that each section receives approximately the same amount of light and water.
After three months, cut out a 4-inch square from each section including the roots. For display, build a stand that holds the grass sod above the bottom of the container and allows the roots to hang below the stand. Place the stand into a clear, plastic container and set the grass on the stand with dangling roots. Measure the difference in the length of the grass's root system for each mowing height.
Worms contribute to soil fertility and friability. Worm composting is a way to get many worms to add to garden soil. Students can demonstrate a significant increase in a worm population using a controlled environment.
Choose a lidded plastic container. With a drill, make holes on all sides of the container, 1 inch apart. Fill one third of the container with shredded, wet newspaper. Purchase one pound of red wiggler worms from a fishing supply store or on-line distributor.
Put the worms into the container under a few sheets of paper. Add 1 to 2 lb. food waste such as coffee grounds, tea bags, citrus peels and salad greens. Do not add meat or fat. At the end of one month, add more shredded newspaper and food scraps. Over time--usually three months--the materials in the container will be reduced by about 50 percent and the container will be filled with composted material and worm castings as well as many, more worms for the garden.
Runoff Versus Ground Water
Soil not protected by ground cover erodes during heavy rainfall and top soil is lost while excess water runoffs. Demonstrate the benefit to collecting ground water for plants using three different types of soil conditions.
Use three clear, plastic containers about 4 inches by 6 inches in size. Drill two holes in one side of each container placing one hole about 1 inch down and the other hole near the bottom of the container. Place a 1 inch wide by 3 inches long PCV pipe into each hole and seal. Place small containers under each pipe, labeling the higher pipe as runoff and the bottom pipe as ground water.
Into each container, add one of three soil configurations: tall grass with roots, dirt only, and dirt with pieces of trash, rocks and construction materials. Pour 1 inch water into each soil container and measure the amount of water that goes into the runoff container and the ground water container.