Assignment: Education - Off the Tray, Into the Student

Onalaska Elementary School Food Waste Recycling Project

ONALASKA, Wis. - They have to take it, but they don't have to eat it.

"Some people don't eat a lot," said Carson Carson Bantle, Northern Hills Elementary School 5th grader.

And if they don't eat it, the food ends up in the trash.

"Right now all of that stuff is in the garbage and that's what this project is about," said Courtney Courtney Morris, Onalaska School District Challenge teacher.

The project elementary school teacher Mr. Morris is talking about is called Off the Tray, Into the Student or OTIS.

"It would be making sure the food goes toward a good cause instead of just going into a landfill and break down," said Zach Goethel, Northern Hills Elementary School 5th grader. "We want it to break down where we could make good use of it."


Zach is in the Challenge Program. He is one of many gifted and talented students taking the waste generated by uneaten food and turning it into something useful.

"We are collecting the trash, or the fruits and veggies, off the kids trays, and then we're collecting that and putting that into the can of worms," said Bantle. "And then the worms are eating that food."

The worms are producing compost which will be used to grow seedlings expected to be planted in the school garden this spring.

"We're putting it in our garden so that we can grow stuff for our school to eat," said Bantle.

As a part of this composting process, the students are using their math skills to answer real-world questions about the experience.

"We're designing procedures to answer some questions that we have written down," said Goethel. "We have our hypothesis and everything. It's just now we need to find a way to get the answer."

"Some are specifically working on questions about worms where they want to find out how much worms can eat in a day," said Morris. "Some of the groups are working more with the brand new law part where  they're trying to figure out how much food is potentially being thrown away each day per school or per grade."

And this provides the students with an opportunity to see how math applies to the real world.

"It makes us realize how much we actually waste that we should be eating to keep ourselves healthy," said Goethel.

"It lets them know that math is not just for sitting at a desk and working out problems that my teacher gave me," said Moris. "It's something that everyone does in real life and every job has some component of math in it.

Figuring out if a law can change the eating habits of children is one example.

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