Students dig through a compost heap to see what they can discover about decomposition and then take a sample from the heap to look at through lenses and microscopes.

Materials Needed

  • ID Sheet, pencils for writing, and drawing clipboard
  • microscopes, flashlights, magnifying lenses
  • shovel, trowel, pick, plastic petri dishes
  • hand wipes, sanitizing gel, tweezers


  1. Docent asks students what they know about a compost heap.
  2. Docent prompts students to hypothesize about how composting works.
  3. Docent hands out collection dishes and explains that they are for collecting a sample at the compost pile.
  4. Docent takes students to compost heap.
  5. Students explore heap with a shovel, trowels, and a pick learning that compost heaps have to be turned to help keep the temperature hot to aid in decomposition. (Older students will take temperature readings.)
  6. They choose a sample and put it in their collection dishes.
  7. Docent takes students back to pavilion where they can examine the sample they took through microscopes and magnifying glasses.
  8. Older students can use an ID sheet to identify some of the critters found in a compost heap and read about the function that critter performs. Younger students can use ID sheets, but Docent, teachers and helpers can aid them in understanding the critters role in a compost heap.

Alabama Course of Study for Science

This activity meets goals specified for grades:

  • K–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20
  • 1st–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 20, 21, 26, 27
  • 2nd–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • 3rd–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 13, 32, 38, 39
  • 4th–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 41, 43, 46
  • 5th–#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 30

Learning Outcomes

Students will discover the cycle of decomposition and the part composting plays in that larger cycle. Students will also understand the cycle of life within the compost heap.

Instrumental Objectives

  • Students will be able to:
  • examine a compost heap.
  • explore and hypothesize what composting is.
  • identify and examine parts of a compost heap, and critters that live in a compost heap.