Global Science - Students pursue “green” projects

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Central students Jonathan Whittle and Cayden Hansel sift through last year’s compost from the school cafeteria. They are sorting out the plastic and silverware accidentally put in the pile and creating one large pile so it is ready for use in the school garden.

Noah Reinhart and Matt Whittle water plants they started from seeds harvested from the school prairie in the science department greenhouse.

Weston Helgerson checks the temperature on the school roof with a thermal imaging camera purchased with a McElroy grant last year. He is researching how weather and sunlight can change the temperature of a roof as a part of his project on green roofs.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” The 14 students in Ann Gritzner’s Global Science class at Central have taken Mead’s words to heart. Working in small groups of one, two or four students, they’re pursuing small projects—composting, can collection and redemption, green roofing, improved tree growth and other ideas—that have the potential for great change. 

According to Gritzner, the students have chosen and designed these projects using a combination of ideas from other students, community members and staff. Previously researched Global Science initiatives sometimes provide ideas, as well.

“The major thing we are looking for in a good project is making a difference in our community and expanding the learning of all participants, particularly in changing how people look at environmental issues and they’re ability to make a change in how things are done,” Gritzner explained. 

The course, which has a second-year follow-up component called Environmental Project Monitoring, begins with four weeks of background work. This phase helps students generate project ideas based on local issues. Topics are researched using local resources, which helps students develop communication and problem-solving skills.

“They also need to design and conduct a scientific experiment that requires data collection,” Gritzner continued, adding that this phase helps students understand how science works outside of the classroom.

“They also need to present their findings,” Gritzner explained. “This gets the students thinking about who needs to know the information they are learning to really affect change. This is why you see them in elementary classrooms and at community events and meetings sharing what they have learned and hopefully inspiring others to learn more.”

This approach is called project-based learning. It gives students the opportunity to work like real-world scientists by setting goals, self-monitoring their productivity, communicating with others in related fields, building community relationships and applying problem-solving skills all while learning that humans have an impact on the environment that can be lessened for the benefit of the natural world.

“These are skills that will translate to any endeavor students pursue after high school,” Gritzner added.

Here’s a look at some of the current Global Science projects. We’ll highlight a few other projects in our next issue.


Central juniors Jon Whittle and Cayden Hansel are continuing work on the school compost pile with the goal of improving its efficiency.

“We’ve looked at ways to keep heat in the pile and to keep it on a cement pad instead of rock,” Jon said, adding that the pair also turn the pile regularly to sort out materials that won’t compost like plastic.

Central last spring started composting food waste generated by students and staff. Waste is scraped into a 32-gallon barrel and when it’s full, the barrel is taken to the city yard waste disposal site off Highway 13 near Pony Hollow trail. The effort has decreased lunchtime waste by nearly 60 percent, which has saved money and helped them learn more about sustainable living. The compost is used in the school garden and, as supply permits, might be distributed to interested gardeners.

“We need to find a way to get the pile hotter so it can compost faster and we also want to make it easier for us to stir it to get the proper oxygen into the pile,” Jon said. Moving the pile onto a cement pad, which the students hope to accomplish by the end of the semester, will help them achieve those goals. It will also reduce the weeds that grow in the pile.

School prairie

A trio of students with a background in farming—Andrey Shirbroun, Noah Reinhart and Matt Whittle—is developing a school prairie that will provide a better habitat for animals. Thus far, they have mowed the space and they’re growing plants in the greenhouse at Central that will be used to reseed the area.

“We’ve been trying to identify what’s growing and learn what we can do to get rid of the weeds we don’t want,” said Matt. “Once we get the prairie established, it will require minimal maintenance.”

Green roofs

Also working solo is Weston Helgerson, whose researching the environmental benefits of “green roofs.” A green or living roof is a roof that’s partially or completely covered by vegetation. Helgerson’s concern over rising carbon dioxide levels was the motivation for his project.

“Green roofs can help keep our planet cleaner,” he explained. “Even though they’re expense, they’re worth the price you have to pay because they last longer and you don’t have to maintain them. “ He added that green roofs that use grass and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants. If the roofing includes small trees or bushes, it can also support wildlife.

Weston has interviewed two local homeowners who have green roofs. He hopes to ultimately give a presentation to the Central School Board and perhaps even members of the community.

“I’m hoping that instead of using materials like shingles and metal, which aren’t nature friendly, people will think about a green roof for the good (environmental) benefits it can be provide,” Weston said. 

Can redemption

When RISE stopped collecting empty aluminum cans, Central students Amy Wiedner and Cassie Larson grew concerned about “empties” becoming litter or being tossed out instead of recycled.  

“We thought it would be a good idea for the community to have a place to donate their cans instead of just throwing them away,” Amy explained.

“The project involves a lot of communication,” she continued. “We’ve talked to City Hall, come up with a starting location, created posters with our contact information and hung them around Elkader, did surveys around the school and contacted the West Union redemption center about working with them to pick up our cans.”

The girls are still working out what kind of bin to provide and what security, if any, will be needed. Despite the challenges, they intend to move foward.

“This project is important to us because we don’t wants the cans to be wasted when (they could be recycled and the money given to a community cause),” Amy said.

Next week: Learn about one student’s efforts to build a wind turbine and another’s work on trees.

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