Activity: Kicking off the Composting Design Experiment

Contributed by: Kansas State University, Computing and Information Systems Department, National Science Foundation GK12 INSIGHT Program

Prepared for

*Subject Area(s)

Life Science


Science and Technology

Computer Science

*Associated Unit

Dig it! Composting Analysis with Temperature Sensors

*Associated Lessons

Compost Design

Creepy Crawlers - Worm Biology

Gathering Data

*Associated Activities

Hands On Activity: How Fast Can A Carrot Rot?

Designing Composting Alternatives  

Evaluating Composting Alternatives

Hands on Worms

*Grade: 6 (5-7)

Time Required

45 minutes

Group Size

Approximately 20 (entire class works together).  Portions involve groups of two for "pair and share" discussions.

Cost Per Group

Three remote temperature displays @ ~$25

Three compost temperature loggers @ ~$100

Assumes access to a computer and the data logging software (comes with loggers)

Total ~$375


This sustainability activity focuses on designing and kicking off the experiment to determine which composting design or designs offer the best composting environment.   Students will learn about instrumentation, measurements, experimental design and controls, and will gather data in order to evaluate several alternative composting designs and determine which designs are most effective.  Students will get to work with temperature sensors, data loggers, and measuring devices during the analysis and conduct a variety of engineering-related analysis skills such as data gathering, filtering and graphical analysis.  Issues associated with data quality and controls will be discussed along with the hands on activities.

*Engineering Connection

Engineers help address sustainability issues and work in a variety of ways to support the three Rs+C: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Composting. Engineers are crucial to designing waste reduction and waste management systems that are as effective, efficient, and cost-effective as possible.  Comprehensive waste management systems are likely to include composting as a way to take our biodegradable kitchen and plant waste and turn it into useful products such as natural fertilizer.  This activity focuses on the issues and tools associated with gathering data for a long-term experiment and preparing to use the information appropriately to evaluate experimental results.

*Engineering Category

1.             Relating science and/or math concepts to engineering

2.        Engineering analysis or partial design

3.             Engineering design process

*Keywords: sustainability, recycle, reuse, compost, compost bins,  science, ecology, environment, trash, waste management, waste reduction, biodegrade, worms.

*Educational Standards

Shawnee School District Grade 6 (2010) from Kansas Science Standards -

Prerequisite Knowledge 

*Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

*Materials List

The overall class needs:

Each group needs:

*Introduction / Motivation

This activity provides the students with a chance to compare the difficulties and challenges of "old-fashioned" manual recording with automatic data recording with sensors and loggers. Students explore factors affecting their data and work through the process of selecting and configuring appropriate equipment.

Vocabulary / Definitions




Both the organic material that has been decomposed and recycled and the act of creating the system to intentionally recycle materials and create useful soil.

Data Logger

A device for recording information over time.



Before the Activity

With the Students

Video - "NASA's Taking the Earth's Temperature" (4 min)

Safety Issues


Troubleshooting Tips

Investigating Questions


To evaluate the effectiveness of this unit, a pre-activity assessment is available that can be administered prior to beginning the activity and a post-test is available that can be administered after students have completed the activity.  


Pre-Activity Quiz

Pre-Activity Quiz with Answers

Post-Activity Quiz

Post-Activity Quiz with Answers

Additional Multi-Media Support

NASA video: Taking the Earth's temperature

NASA video: Temperature Puzzle


Bill Nye on Heat

Bill Nye "Every Measurement you make"

Ending: Episode 4: Decomposers (The Unseen World)

Energy Transfer in Ecosystems:



Redirect URL


Denise Case, Kansas State University, Lucas Shivers and Lindsay Burch, Bluejacket Flint Elementary.


© 2011 by Kansas State University.

Permission granted for free use and distribution, conditioned upon inclusion of the above attribution and copyright notice.  This digital library content was developed by the Insight Program under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0948019. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

*Supporting Program

Kansas State University, Department of Computing and Information Sciences, National Science Foundation GK-12 INSIGHT Program

Image from Wikipedia: