Share it! Science : March 2017

"Here Comes the Garbage Barge" inspired Landfill Model

I'm excited to be participating in Inspiration Laboratory's Storybook Science series again this year! This time around we're exploring conservation with a children's book and science activity.

We make a lot of trash! When we throw something away...where exactly is away? Your students and children will gain a better understanding of where trash goes and what happens in a landfill by building this landfill model. 

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! is a great picture book to begin thinking about the problem of having too much trash. A great read and project for Earth Day!

This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosures for more information.

Read Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! is the fictionalized, but true, story of a barge full of trash that no one wanted. During the late 1980's Long Island's landfills were overflowing. Eventually the government stepped in and outlawed further burying of trash. So, it was decided the trash would be shipped to the south.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! humorously tells the tale of colorful Cap'm Duffy St. Pierre and his tugboat and barge. As the garbage barge travels south word spreads and everyone is ready to turn poor Cap'm Duffy away. The adventure that ensues is funny, but also clearly illustrates the point that we create too much trash and no one wants to have to take care of it.

In addition the the subtle conservation message, the story serves as a great geography lesson. The interesting illustrations were created by making models and photographing the images. Much of the material used to make the models was repurposed trash.


Build a Landfill Model

Where does our trash go? If it is not reused, recycled or composted, in most cases, waste heads to the landfill. A landfill is much more than a pile of trash. Learn more about the anatomy of a landfill here. You can build the model below to better understand what a landfill is like. Once you understand landfills better, I bet you'll want to recycle even more! You will be able to observe your model over time to see how the trash in a landfill changes (or stays the same).
There are many layers to the landfill. To make your model you'll need the following:

Your first step will be to cut the top off of the plastic bottle. This will be the container you build your model in.

The first layer of your landfill will be soil. The base of the landfill is the natural soil of the land that the landfill is placed on. Because of this, great care is taken to be sure that any toxins in runoff water, or leachate, from the garbage do not end up in the native soil and ultimately in groundwater.

The next layer is compacted clay, or play dough for your model. The clay in an actual landfill provides another barrier to prevent leachate from entering the groundwater. It also helps gases to escape from the landfill.

The third layer of the model, plastic wrap, represents the geomembrane, a thin plastic sheet that again serves to prevent leachate from draining from the landfill. Do you sense a pattern? Leachate is nasty stuff!

You'll use cotton balls, spread thin, to represent the next layer of the landfill, the geotextile layer. This is part of a system that in an actual landfill uses pipes (not included in the model) to separate solids and liquids in the runoff from the landfill. The geotextile fabric prevents the pipes from getting clogged.

The fifth layer is a layer of gravel. The gravel layer is what collects the leachate as it originally exits the landfill's trash.

Finally, in the 6th layer up from the ground is the trash! In a working landfill, the trash layer is covered with soil daily. We added two layers of trash and soil to represent this. You may have room to add more layers of each in your model. 


Once a landfill has reached a specified height, it is closed off. There is another layer of clay added to the top of the last trash/soil layer.

Another geomembrane, or in our case, plastic wrap, is added.

After the plastic geomembrane is another layer of gravel that serves as drainage.

The landfill is topped off with soil and grass. We used some houseplants, but to be even more accurate, you can plant some grass seed in your topsoil.

Voila! Now watch your model. See if you can answer the following questions in the next days, weeks and months.
  • What happens to the trash over time? 
  • Do you notice anything changing? 
  • Can air and water get all the way through your model? 
  • How is this like a real landfill? 
  • What pieces of trash could have been recycled or composted? 

Why is it important to reduce, reuse, and recycle? So that our planet doesn't run out of space! Who wants to live surrounded by trash anyway?

For a printable photo tutorial that includes student worksheets for further landfill model observations click here.

To see all of the great posts in the Storybook Science series, head on over to Inspiration Laboratories!

Design an Insect Investigation with Zoey and Sassafras- NGSS Linked Activity

I am so thrilled to be sharing a new science-themed fiction book series: Zoey and Sassafras with you! I've found there are great non-fiction kid's books to spark a love of science, and wonderful fictional picture books that have themes that can be used in the science classroom. Zoey and Sassafras manages to do both! 

Read on to find out more about this book, and how to use it to spark curiosity in science. You'll find the directions for a Next Generation Science Standards aligned insect investigation lesson as well as a free printable Zoey and Sassafras themed science journal. I guarantee this book series and activity will be a big hit with your students or kids at home! 

This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosures for more details.  

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows is the first book in this fun series by Asia Citro. This illustrated chapter book, aimed at readers in Kindergarten through 4th grade, features a curious girl named Zoey and her cat Sassafras. Zoey loves science, insects and other animals. She's not only a strong female character, but also, incredibly relatable to any kid who loves investigating questions, getting down in the dirt, and a little bit of magic. The series is perfect for budding scientists, aspiring veterinarians and zoologists.

I fell in love with Zoey immediately because the story opens with her flipping over a big, mossy rock to investigate what creatures lie beneath it. She proceeds to build a bug circus with what she has found. Flipping over a rock in search of insects and other macro-invertebrates is something you could find me doing when I was a kid (and admittedly, you still might find me doing it today!). 

Zoey and Sassafras are tasked with caring for some magical animals in the series. To do so, they must use scientific thinking. Skillfully woven throughout the story are examples of experimental design, science vocabulary, and scientific reasoning. There are examples of science journal entries throughout and a glossary of science terms at the end. You can read a sample of the first story here, but be warned, you'll want to know what happens next!

Since we love insects and other crawly creatures, we thought it would be fun to design some experiments just like Zoey does. So, grab your thinking goggles, because off we go! 

The most important part of an insect investigation is understanding that you are working with living creatures, and that they must be treated with kindness, care and respect. Be gentle with anything you collect, and be sure to return it to where you found it before too long! 

You might need these materials for your insect investigations: 
...and basically anything else you can come up with! Just remember to be gentle with your creatures!

Let's learn more about what insects need, just like Zoey and Sassafras had to do with their dragon in Dragons and Marshmallows. First, you'll need to collect some insects, bugs, worms or other small creatures. Look under rocks, small logs or pieces of bark. Dig in the soil. Where else can you find them? 

(If you need creatures for a classroom project and/or live in an area where you can't access nature easily, you can investigate crickets purchased online or at the pet store, or even worms sold as bait! The same careful, respectful handling rules apply to these creatures.)

Time to start your investigation. Leave the experimental design open-ended for young minds to ponder. Here are some ideas for experimental questions:
  • Does my animal prefer light, or dark? 
  • Would my animal like to live where it is damp or dry? 
  • What types of food does my animal prefer? 
  • What type of home would my creature like to live in? (Try building a bug hotel! There is a fun design built with LEGO bricks here!)
What is your hypothesis? Be sure to make one before you begin!

Use these free printable Zoey and Sassafras science journal sheets to help organize your ideas and collect your data. 

What are your results? We'd love to hear about your insect or bug investigations! Share them with us on Facebook, Twitter or Google+

For more excellent STEM activities and extensions to compliment Zoey and Sassafras, check out the book's website here

This activity aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Here are a few aligned standards: 
  • Kindergarten: K-LS1-1  (making observations of what animals need to survive)
  • 2nd Grade: 2-LS4-1 (making observations to understand the diversity of life in different habitats)
  • 2nd Grade: Take it a step further- include plant investigations! 2-LS2-1 (design an investigation to see if plants need light and water to grow)
Are you looking for other NGSS aligned lessons that deal with small critters? Check out one of my favorite curriculum books: More Picture Perfect Science and the "Wiggling Worms at Work" lesson. It uses 2 great children's books: Diary of a Worm, and Wiggling Worms at Work

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows in exchange for an honest review. Zoey and Sassafras character art is used with express written permission from Marion Lindsay and The Innovation Press.

Magnify Without a Magnifier, A Science Art Project

Mixing science and art is never a bad thing. In this STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) art project kids use their powerful science observation skills and attention to detail to make some cool illustrations. This is a great lesson because you don't need a magnifying glass, or even a microscope to start to see the tiniest details. You'll hone your children's or student's observation skills with these magnification frame drawings!

Visit my Magnify Without a Magnifier contributor post on Only Passionate Curiosity to find out how to do this fun science and art project.

For more great STEAM projects, check out STEAM Kids!