When I bought a pound of red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) worms from a breeder down South about three and a half years ago, I had no idea how integral these little guys would become in our school gardening program. After all this time, this species remains a genuine source of curiosity and wonder for our students, both young and old. Most recently, our worm friends generously agreed to assume the spotlight once again while students in the elementary grades learned about their habitat, anatomy and life cycle, up close and personal.
I found some interesting curriculum material on a site called Hidden Villa Classroom from which I printed the template for a book called “Red Worms Rock.” The activities and experiments Hidden Villa developed provided a way for students to not only learn about worms but to also build beginning literacy and math skills. The objective of this resource (as they describe on their About page) really gels with mine, including the belief that student retention can increase greatly through applied learning that connects student experiences with their classroom lessons. The project also allows for students to straddle multiple subject areas within one project as well as gives them practice working independently and in a group.
For example, one of my classes had done some introductory work with bar graphs in their homeroom, but it wasn’t a concrete skill yet. In the greenhouse, we began measuring worms individually – measurement in and of itself it is an emerging skill that we worked on. The students then pooled their information and used the collected data (here we practiced making a T-Chart graphic organizer) to create a bar graph representing worm lengths.
Another page in our worm book asked the students to describe their worms. By really talking about what we were seeing, touching, smelling and feeling in regards to our worms, students worked on building their vocabulary while coming up with adjectives for their subjects. For students who really respond to creative writing, they wrote fanciful stories from the perspective of a worm!
The art teacher in me had to add a hands-on, creative component: students made collages representing a worm bin (a project I have used in the past) including many of the items found in a healthy bin. This was a good way for me to assess if students have a sound understanding of a worm composting habitat. It also allowed students who may have struggled with the bar graph or the writing piece to shine with their creative skills.
The kids were so proud of their finished books as was I! Over a four week period, they did a great job completing math, literacy, art and science activities revolving around worms. Although our worms are voracious enough to eat nearly half their weight in food scraps a day, they are clearly powerhouses at teaching too!