Eastern Michigan University and Estabrook Elementary students re-purpose 538 milk cartons for national school garden contest

Eastern Michigan University and Estabrook Elementary students re-purpose 538 milk cartons for national school garden contest
Students from the CHEM 312: Teaching Elementary Chemistry class at EMU posing with the milk carton castle, birdhouse and garden neighborhood made by students at Estabrook Elementary Schooll in Ypsilanti. 

YPSILANTI—In a special collaboration between three fifth grade classrooms at Ypsilanti's Estabrook Elementary School and a class in Teaching Elementary School Chemistry at Eastern Michigan University, students re-purposed 538 milk cartons to build recyclable items for the national Carton 2 Garden Spring 2017 contest. 

The contest, open to schools throughout the United States, is designed to engage students in a hands-on experience that teaches environmental stewardship, sustainable packaging and healthy living. The students from Estabrook designed three objects: a castle, a birdhouse and a garden neighborhood. 

“These projects are the result of the hard work and creativity of the Estabrook students,” said Amy Flanagan Johnson, a chemistry professor at EMU who teaches the CHEM 312 class. “They gained experience in, among other things, teamwork, generating original ideas, public speaking, various aspects of STEM, practical problem solving, and how much fun science and engineering can be. This level of independence is greatly needed for students to be successful in middle school and beyond.”

young students painting project
Students from Estabrook were able to experience the complete design cycle of the project, from initial conception to revision to editing and production.

EMU students were divided up among the three fifth grade classrooms at Estabrook, where they brainstormed their ideas and narrowed them down to a single project for each classroom.

The three projects were built with the goal of reusing as many household materials as possible, including plastic and paper containers, paper towels and toilet paper rolls.

Natural materials such as wood, cotton string and hemp twine were implemented in the construction of the frames for the objects. Flour, salt, water and food coloring were also combined to create environmentally friendly paint.

Practice of sustainability

According to Carton 2 Garden’s website, 70 percent of each milk or juice carton is made from trees, while more than 50 percent of these cartons are recyclable for households in the United States.

The Carton 2 Garden contest aims to encourage children to use their imaginations and repurpose their milk and juice cartons into a creation that fosters environmental responsibility and focuses on establishing gardens at schools.

"We really wanted it to be student led, so we're just the facilitators,” said Meghan Templeton, an elementary education science major at EMU.  “It's their ideas, they're executing it and we're here to help them bring their vision to life."

Along with being built with household and natural materials, the castle and garden neighborhood both employ an irrigation system for catching and distributing rainwater, while the birdhouse allows for birdseed to be stored in feeding containers.

Students also successfully planted and cared for seedlings as they grew their own food in the re-purposed cartons over the duration of the project.

Demonstration of STEM in the project

Students from Estabrook were able to experience the complete design cycle of the project, from initial conception to revision to final editing and production, while the students from EMU were able to gain experience in mentoring students through demonstrating the use of science, technology, engineering and math education disciplines (STEM).

"My understanding is that for these fifth graders this is their first foray into design, engineering and thinking creatively to problem solve,” said Veronica Hargenrader, graduate assistant for the CHEM 312 class at EMU. “This is the most artistic way that I've ever seen for them to start their science career."

Math was integrated as the students measured the size of each type of carton used and calculated how many would be needed to fill in the size of the frame for each area.

The students employed science practices as they measured and adjusted the ratio of ingredients in their mixture to produce a useful consistency of paint.

In terms of engineering, the students designed irrigation systems, determined how to attach the cartons to the frames for durability and constructed the bird feeders to safely support the weight of the birds and the seed.

Aspects of technology were also implemented through using multimedia in the classroom to create a visual image for their projects.

"To get (these students) up, moving around, using their brains and trying to engage them, it's been really great for them ... " said Hargenrader. “They come alive, a lot of the students want to get their hands on the material and problem solve.”

Carton 2 Garden Contest

The Carton 2 Garden program is part of Evergreen Packaging’s ongoing effort to raise awareness among consumers on the eco-friendly benefits of paper cartons. The contest started in 2015, and is held annually in the spring. Carton 2 Garden is open to all K-12 public and private schools in the United States. While the school does not need a garden to participate, at least 100 empty cartons must be collected and used in designing garden items and structures.

There are multiple prizes for the contest including:

A grand prize of $5,000 for the best project;

A STEM prize of $2,500 for best use of science, technology, engineering and math lessons in the project;

A Sustainability prize of $2,500 for best demonstration of sustainable practices in the garden creation;

A Health and Nutrition prize of $2,500 for best incorporation of lessons on wellness;

Ten elementary and middle/high schools are also able to receive $1,000 prizes for their submissions. While the submission deadline for the 2017 Carton 2 Garden contest has ended, winners will be announced on May 12.

For more information about the Carton 2 Garden contest, visit their website.

About Eastern Michigan University College of Education

Founded in 1849 as the first "normal school" west of the Alleghenies, Eastern Michigan University is one of the largest producers of educational personnel in the country. The College of Education provides outstanding leadership in education. The College offers a comprehensive range of programs -- bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees (many with online and off-campus options) -- and extensive non-degree and certification learning experiences. To read more about the programs within the College of Education, visit the COE homepage.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

May 05, 2017

Written by:
Brandon Lazovic

Geoff Larcom