Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies: Cycles – From Rot to Radishes

The central investigation of this unit helps students answer the question, “Where does the stuff living things are made of go after those organisms die?” Throughout the unit, students grapple with the notion that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but it takes different forms as it cycles — as part of a living thing at one point in time, and as part of the non-living environment at another. This is a unit with eight lessons. Here are the links to the PDFs for each lesson:


Lesson 1: A Challenge from GROW
Students observe soil samples, talk about where soil nutrients come from, receive a letter from a company that wants to know if dead plants can be used as fertilizer, and then develop research questions.


Lesson 2: Plans and Peer Reviews
Students work in groups to design a fair test that will yield information for GROW, and then review each other’s plans and decide on a final design. Supplemental resource: Testing Conditions That Promote Decomposition


Lesson 3: Up and Running
Students set up experiments to test the effects of compost tea on plant growth, learn about plant development, and then monitor their experiments for 3-5 weeks.


Lesson 4: Exploring Plant and Soil Connection
Students prepare for and conduct an outdoor investigation of soil in areas where plants and other landscape features differ, and then use their findings to think about plant and soil connections.


Lesson 5: Planting Preferences
Students work in groups to rank four sites according to their suitability for planting shrubs, and then independently complete a diagram showing a nutrient cycle for the preferred site.


Lesson 6: Radish Results
Students make and process final observations of their plants and graphs, discuss their data in groups, compile data for the whole class, discuss conclusions, and then write letters to GROW. Supplemental resource: Group Work Evaluation


Lesson 7: GROW Gets an Answer
Students complete their work for GROW by working in groups to create advertisements that teach the public about nutrient cycling and GROW’s research and products. Supplemental resource: Group Work Evaluation and Portfolio Cover Sheet


Lesson 8: Hiring a Scientist
Students recommend who GROW should hire as a scientist after reviewing three job applications.