The sixth graders at Locust Valley Middle School probably never thought they would spend their science period outside burying chewing gum, plastic bottles, and candy. Nor did they realize such an activity could be educational. But the school’s ecology lab has proven that one man’s garbage can be a scientist’s buried treasure.

The ecology lab, which is part of the sixth-grade science program, was developed to teach students what happens to items that end up in landfills, and had young scientists conducting an experiment that will help them learn firsthand just what happens to all that garbage. After a great deal of discussion, the classes each developed a list of common items that are thrown in the trash and then developed a hypothesis about whether each of these items will decompose, partially decompose, or never decompose. Armed with shovels and wooden Popsicle sticks to mark the burial spots, each science class dug holes one-foot-deep just outside their classrooms and buried a variety of items. The materials will be unearthed in May to discover how accurate the hypotheses were.

Middle School Science teacher Michele Weiner explained that doing a project like this makes much more of an impact on students than just telling them which objects will decompose. “According to research, experiential knowledge is the most cohesive form of learned information,” she said. “Students will not just memorize information, but they will be able to synthesize concepts and evaluate the validity of this information.”

Furthermore, Mrs. Weiner stated that what the students really learn from the project is that we create a tremendous amount of solid waste in our households, schools and businesses. “This waste must be handled. We have studied about all the different methods of disposal; sanitary landfills, incineration, ocean dumping and recycling. It is important that the students connect this with the fact that only a small percent of our garbage will decompose in a timely manner.”

Stay tuned for the results of this experiment in May. It’s possible we will all learn something!