Saturday, April 26, 2014

Landfill Explanation Game

At the beginning of our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, the ECE students did "The Explanation Game" with the above photo of a landfill.  I wanted to determine the students background knowledge about garbage.  This was the first activity of our RRR study and I found that the students had only very basic familiarity with the garbage, where it comes from and what happens to it.  The children recognized that this was garbage and a garbage truck.  They notices some elements of the trash; "I see trash," "I see clothes," "I see bags," "I see a table."  When trying to explain what they saw, I asked many questions to prompt their thinking.  The children explained that the trash came from garbage cans.  There was some vague knowledge of the trash getting "burnted" or going to a "shredder."  My hope was that the children would come up with theories or guesses about how the garbage got to the landfill, and/or what would happen to it next. 

After doing the explanation game, I was able to go back to my UbD essential questions and plan experiences and investigations that would build the students background knowledge.  The themes (essential questions) we would explore during the course of the study include:

  • ·         What do people throw away?
  • ·         Where does trash go?
  • ·         How do trash and garbage affect our community
  • ·         How can we reuse junk?
  • ·         How can we create less trash?
During the course of the study, the students had opportunities, to investigate the garbage in our school and in their homes.  We had an expert talk to the class about the school trash.  We had an expert talk about recycling and composting.  We also read books and watched videos about the life cycle of garbage. 

At the end of our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, I brought out the picture that we used at beginning of the study.   My intent was to do the Explanation Game a second time to assess the growth of students' understanding of reducing, reusing, and recycling.   I had left our initial explanation hanging on the board and we referred to the picture often throughout the study so the children were familiar with it.  My intent through the study was to help my students see connections and let them take the reins of their learning.

The second visit to the explanation game started out in a similar way as the first time.  However, I was pleased so see that the students began noticing details in the picture that they hadn't picked up the first time they looked at the picture.  Below is the transcript of the children's responses to the picture.  The text in red is my 3 year-old class and the blue is my 4 year-old class.  In italics are my prompts.

What we see/notice
A landfillEllie
A garbage truckMiranda, Xzayvior
The oceanEllie
I see the garbage truckJoe
I see a broken chairMiranda
Garbage and a garbage truckTrinity
A box of garbageSunshine
Garbage truck, a beach, birds, and trashLiam
Trash truck--Ford
What we think
The garbage is stinkyEllie
It smells stinky because it’s garbage, but paper doesn’t stinkWill
It is at the land fillWill
All of it’s no trash, some is food Will
Recycle some stuffNhandi
Reuse some stuff, there might be toys we can play withSutton
You can make a robot out of that big boxFord
The trash is going to blow away because the garbage truck is leavingJoe
The trash gets picked up and floats away in the oceanNhandi
They dump it on a boatKamilah
The recycle stuff gets pushed inside and goes to a cube and then turns into new stuffKamilah
The hopper squeezes the trash out--Joe
--What do you think about the chair?
          They should fix the chairSunshine
          They should paint the chairEllie
--What do you think about the garbage truck?
The garbage in the truck goes really tiny and it goes on an elevatorMiranda
It goes crushedLiam
It goes on a beltEllie
          The big wheelsXzayvior
          The back of the truck closesMiranda
          He is dumping trashNhandi
--Other things
          If I was trash, I’d want to go on the stairs [the belt]Sunshine
          I’d want to go on the beltMiranda

What we see/notice
I see chairs in thereBrenyn
Paper, I notice that paper is in the pictureAaliyah
I see a boatLucy
I see a bagLucas
I think it’s a kiteGabi
I wonder what that sign isLucy
A lot of plastic bagsLucy
I see a chairAnthony
I see a banana peelAnthony
I’m thinking wormsBrenyn
What We Think
The compost is good food for your plantsWyatt
It’s a landfill where a lot of trash goes and they cover it up with dirt and it becomes a playgroundLili
Some of this stuff can be recycledTaylor
That food can go into the compost and turn into dirtAlex
Not so fast.  It takes timeLili
You can teracycleAlex
It’s like reusingTaylor
They can turn those clothes into capes and play super heroWyatt
They could give that table to someoneLili
--What do you think about the chair?
I think it brokeAnthony
I think it got there in a garbage truckAnthony
I think ‘em said “our chair broke, we want to throw it away”Anthony
They should have given the chair awayGabi       
Maybe they didn’t have any people in their neighborhoodLucy (Lucy had told us earlier about her family putting a table in the alley so someone else could take it)
Maybe they have no friends and are shy of talking to people and maybe they don’t know how to fix itBrenyn
--What about the paper you see?
I don’t think they should throw it away they should put it in the recycle binGabi
Or turn it over and use the other sideLucy
--What about the plastic?
          They didn’t know plastic bags go in the recycling binAnthony
--What about the banana peel?
Put it in a bucket and make it mushy and then put it in another bucket and put worms in it, but not earthworms, another kind of worms, and they eat and poop and make it into dirtGabi
--What about the garbage truck?
I see this [the hydraulic pump on the door], I think it’s a trigger that makes it openAnthony
When it closes, it crushes the trashLucy
The back thing helps the trash get compactedRory
The students were able to make connections to our leaning, by explaining that various items in the landfill could have been recycled or reused or composted.  The students were also able to talk about the "life cycle of trash."

This experience has convince me that the explanation game is a great way to introduce a study and then assess the students' learning at the end of a study.  After completing our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, we embarked on our Building Study.  We started the study with the explanation game looking at a picture of the city of Shanghai.  I look forward to bringing out the picture again to see how the students' thinking has grown. 


  1. Gail,
    congrats! Their observations, noticings, and schema really grew! How wonderful to witness/facilitate this with your little ones! Your essential questions were spot on!
    You are cementing their souls as careful citizens of the world.

  2. This was so fun to read, Gail! I love your use of the explanation game as both and intro and an assessment! I love the kids' comments at the end- the frequent use of words like "compost, recycle, give it away," and even "teracycle!" make the learning so clear. The kids certainly made connections to their world. Well done!

  3. How fun are their responses!! It was great to see how much they learned and how much their thinking changed around garbage. You have created a group of kids that are going to save our world through recycling, reducing, reusing, composting and anything else they can possibly do! What a great thing to teach kids while they are young and can start developing habits!