Eco-Inquiry, an ecology curriculum for grades 5-8 helps teachers transform their classrooms into centers of ecological research.

Day 5: Testing Conditions that Promote Decomposition


Students test factors that promote the growth of microbes, then use their findings to make compost.

Lesson Overview

Students will be able to: Understand that invisible spores of microbes are in the air, water, and on all non-sterile surfaces, discover that certain physical conditions, such as moisture and warmth, help microbes grow, explain the connection between the growth of microbes on dead plants and decomposition, refine their experimenting skills

Session 1- 40 min, Session 2 - 40 min, Session 3-5- 40 min, Session 6 - 1 hr


For the Class:

  • 2.5 gallon (30x15x17 cm) plastic animal cage with cover (or a similar clear plastic container to use as a decomposition chamber)
  • clear plastic bag large enough to line the decomposition chamber
  •  6 cups of alfalfa hay
  • 6 cups of hardwood shavings
  • materials to vary conditions for growing microbes

 Session 1

For each pair of students

  • copy of "Research Proposal"

Session 2

For the class

  • miscellaneous containers

For each pair of students

  • 4 sandwich-size ziplock bags
  • masking tape or permanent marker

Session 3-5

For the class

  • measurement and observation tools

For each pair of students

  • 2 hand lenses
  • copy of "Science Fair Story #3"
  • copy of "Science Fair Story #4"
  • copy of Science Fair Story #5

See Lesson Resources below for further details.

NYS Standards
MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science
MST 7- Problem solving using mathematics, science, and technology (working effectively, process and analyze information, presenting results)
Benchmarks for Science Literacy
5D Interdependence of Life
5E Flow of Matter and Energy
12C Manipulation and Observation

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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