Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
June 23rd, 2013 by Luann

The Paper Mill Project 2013

This post might well be titled “Adventures in Project-Based Learning.”

Students Working with Sludge


You have to start somewhere.

It was an experience in jumping in feet first, and fortunately, also an experience in collaborative problem-solving. Based on the student excitement level, the student-initiated collaboration, and the chemistry-rich discussions involved, it was also a very successful experience.

I’ve learned that students find a final project more relevant than just a final exam. I’ve used either or both together as a final assessment.  One favorite in the past has been the scavenger hunt. Most of my Chemistry kiddos had done the biology version last year, so I wanted to provide them with a different experience in Chemistry.

Our work this year included, of course, the requisite lab skills and techniques, experimental design, data collection and analysis generally found in a science class.  We’d done some guided inquiry, but had neither the time nor the facility to do a full-blown open inquiry in Chemistry.  In looking for a relevant, rigorous, and interesting project, we chose the waste generated by our local paper mill.  I contacted the mill, and they gave us a few buckets of their waste sludge and the MSDS for the sludge.

Students quickly identified 3 possible avenues for investigations:

  1. What can be done about the odor?
  2. Can we make something useful with the sludge?
  3. How can the sludge be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way?

The list below includes all projects submitted in an electronic format.  (Seniors did partial versions as they weren’t in class the last several days, and some students opted for different final assessments.) Our chemistry courses are inclusive in that all students, including special education and emerging bilingual students, take chemistry.

Student work, if electronically published, is below in no particular order.

Generating methane (research paper)
Eliminating odor
Possible Uses research
Art – photos not showing up
Odor control
Odor control
Spill cleanup
Conversion of methanol to formaldehyde
Odor control
 Wood Pulp in the Food Industry
Liquid Fuel
Citrus as a Deoderizer
Better Kitty Litter
Concrete Reinforcement
Neutralizing Odor
Re-use as Absorptive
Acid Hdrolysis
Kitty Litter
Sponge? Ink? Laquer?
Garden Soil Additive
Paper Mache
Making Bricks
Preservation/Disposal of a body
Oil Spill Cleanup
Composting food
Disposal by burning
Holding capacity of soil
Making Bricks
Making Bricks
Kitty Litter
Animal bedding
Preventing runoff
As an absorbent
Bark Chips
Improving Holding Capacity of Soil
Building material
Absorbing an Oil Spill
Fire Retardant
Patching Potholes
Making a de-icer
Scroll down to Lab Write-up
Scroll down to Lab Write-up
Firestarters? Not.
Potting soil

The final projects were successful largely because we’d inadvertently accomplished some of the foundations for sound project-based learning: kids had good relationships with their peers, they had some choice in what they would do and how they would do it, they knew what their outcomes should teach us, and I spent a long few weeks doing a massive amount of questioning and coaching.  In retrospect, I could have spent more time framing the project with students all year, so that’s a goal for next year. It would have been helpful to have built in more peer review and collaboration, although I was very impressed by the supportive collaborative alliances the kids formed on their own.

So, one of my goals this year is to take steps toward converting some of our current units into projects. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve made the acquaintance of Suzie Boss, and am making much use of her books (Reinventing Project-based Learning and Thinking Through Project-Based Learning .)

Your comments and feedback are most welcome.


One Response to “The Paper Mill Project 2013”
  1. What a great project! Local=authentic. You NEVER told them what to do (bravo to you!), but let them come up with their own questions and then personal responses. Its great to see so many unique projects that are a reflection of their creators (although I have to admit, I haven’t yet looked at them all). Thank you for sharing this great idea.

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