Lesley graduate Paul Powers leads his middle school class to finals in national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition.
At the Kennedy Middle School in Natick, Massachusetts, science teacher Paul Power, who earned a master’s degree from Lesley in 2005, spends a lot of time talking trash. Fortunately, his trash talk has little to do with what his teenage students are listening to on the radio, and more to do with how to reduce consumption in a nation where the average American throws away four pounds of trash each day. With that alarming statistic in mind, Power and a team of students came up with an innovative approach to composting that has soared to the finals in the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition.
“Our students designed vermicompost containers using only recycled material and conducted experiments to show the benefits of compost on plant growth,” said Power. “Vermicompost is composting using worms in small containers that can be kept indoors.”
Each year, Samsung, the consumer electronic manufacturing giant, calls on public school teachers to raise student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math by inviting them to answer the challenge, “Show how science or math can help the environment in your community.” In total Samsung gives away more than $1 million in technology to the winners. More than 1,500 application essays came from teachers and students across the country for this year’s contest, and the top 75 were chosen and sent video production kits containing a Samsung laptop, camcorder, and software from Adobe. Power’s student team, selected as one of the 15 finalists, has produced a video now featured on Samsung’s website.
“This idea originated from a professional development class on problem-based learning [PBL] that Kennedy teachers for grades six through eight took last summer,” said Power. “We’ve been dabbling in PBL for the past few years. For example, last year our students focused on increasing recycling and reducing energy consumption in our school community and designed many excellent, workable solutions that continue to impact our practices.”
In the video produced by the Kennedy Middle School students for the Samsung competition, the student narrator explains that the team sent out an online survey to the school community and found that most of the 800 respondents were in favor of composting but were concerned about the smell and attracting wild animals. After learning about the process of composting in science class, the team brainstormed about how to create compost bins using only recycled materials. Power’s students created a workable design for small, indoor compost receptacles, and then headed to the engineering technology class to make a prototype.
“The worms live in bins of any size right in our living space, so it is easy to monitor water and materials added,” said Power. “Because the worms are constantly moving through the material they aerate for us or, in a pinch, we can easily mix the material because the bins are handy and small.”
The final compost container was filled with compostable food materials, worms, and water. The team invited community members to put on blindfolds and take part in a smell test, which is shown in the video. According to the video narrator, the compost passed with “flying colors.”
The Kennedy Middle School team is already well on its way to changing its community’s perception about composting and increasing awareness of this low-cost, efficient tool for recycling, according to Power. As far as the Samsung competition goes, by advancing to the finals, the team has secured $40,000 worth of technology for the school.
Five of the 15 videos will become the top prize winners, winning an additional $70,000 for their schools. Four of the videos are chosen by judges, and one is a people’s choice award. Samsung is encouraging schools to get out the word and have people in their communities (and across the nation) vote for their respective schools as the people’s choice winner. The videos are available for viewing on the Samsung website. The deadline to vote is March 4.
“We are the only New England school in the running,” said Power. “I hope Lesley graduates will support us and go vote now!”
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