Though some have trouble pronouncing the word, the students in Evelyn Wester's third-grade class at Landels Elementary School seem to understand the meaning of "hypothesis," and they are thrilled to have accurately forecast which plants would be thriving.
The control group of cauliflower, collard greens and lettuce which were planted in untreated top soil had not grown as much as the vegetables growing in an experimental, compost-enriched pot.
After taking measurements with rulers, third-graders Grace Pell and Sara Twiggs said they expected the produce in the compost to be doing better. "Compost has more nutrition," Pell explains.
The three girls are sitting at a table with several of their classmates looking over worksheets provided by Living Classroom -- a non-profit educational program which provides free, supplemental life-science lessons to schools in the Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school districts.
Inside, the other half of Wester's class follows along on individual worksheets as Living Classroom's founder, Vicki Moore, explains that plants draw nutrients from compost that they wouldn't be able to get from top soil alone.
She gets a laugh when she tells them that worm "poop" -- more commonly referred to as "castings" -- makes up a large percentage of the compost they've been using to feed their experimental group of plants.
Moore started the program in the Los Altos School District, during the 2008-09 school year, and moved it to Mountain View Whisman schools this year. So far, Living Classroom has given more than 100 lessons at six of the district's elementary schools and Moore has plans to expand into the remaining two schools -- Bubb and Castro -- and into second grade classrooms next year.
In an effort to raise her program's profile and recruit volunteers, Moore is holding a Living Classroom informational session at Castro Elementary on Earth Day, April 22, at 9 a.m. in Room 23. Those interested in becoming a Living Classroom docent will be able to participate in a volunteer training session from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. to get a feel for the program.
Earth Day is an appropriate date to hold the informational meeting. Moore started Living Classroom in an effort to encourage children to celebrate the "world of living things."
"You don't need to have a science background, you don't need to have a background in gardens, you just have to have a love for sharing with children," Moore said, explaining the requirements for being a docent.
Volunteers will also need to be able to commit to working during regular school days. Those who enjoy gardening and teaching children would be a good fit, as most lessons are outdoors and involve working in the dirt, planting seeds, examining worms and dissecting flowers.
Marie Doolittle, a third-grade teacher at Landels, spoke highly of the Living Classroom program.
"It's so hands-on," Doolittle said, reflecting on the time her students spent working through the composting lesson. "The children are very enthusiastic."
When Wester's class was asked whether they preferred working outdoors as opposed to indoors, the children responded in unison that they would rather be outside. "It's more hands on," Grace said. Her classmate Sara added, "You learn by doing."