“Bottle Biology” sprang from the musings of Dr. Paul Williams. Studying the compost pile he built one day while raking his yard, he wondered about what occurred inside. Placing some of the leaves in an empty soda bottle, he watched them decompose; thus, the idea for Bottle Biology came to life. With a team and funding from the National Science Foundation, the Bottle Biology Program set out to develop curricular material that makes use of 2-liter plastic soda bottles – items that usually end up in the garbage. Although the program officially ended in 1993, the activities developed by Williams and the Wisconsin Fast Plants Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison live on via the website and companion book.
The website is divided into seven major sections: Introduction, Bottle Basics, BB Toolkit, Building Blocks, Column Investigations, Hanging Bottles, and Reference Links. These sections contain all the information needed to start transforming bottles into learning opportunities for your students. The website describes the “anatomy” of the bottles and depicts how to cut them. It lists the tools you need to create bottle projects. The site also contains three complete Bottle Biology Investigations, which include Decomposition, Kimchee Fermentation, and the TerrAqua Column.
Of all the investigations, the Decomposition activity stands out. Three 2-liter soda bottles are cut and nested together to create a column. Instructions are given on how to hang the column in order to take up less space in your classroom. After construction, you can then fill the column with a variety of materials – perhaps some that decompose and some that will not. Students’ next step is to observe the column and take measurements, such as the pH or temperature. After making basic observations, it is suggested that students explore. They can change some of the variables, such as decreasing the pH by adding vinegar or adjusting the amount of light the bottles receive, and observe changes. They can also conduct controlled experiments by creating replicate columns.
The website offers background reading, which describes some of the organisms that might be present and what might be happening in the column. If you want to delve further into Bottle Biology, you can order the book from Kendall-Hunt – more information is provided on the website. Bottle Biology is an excellent way for your students to explore using the scientific process. I have used the activities in my classroom and highly recommend them. My students enjoy these investigations.
REMY DOU taught high school life science for eight years before becoming an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow (2011–2013). Currently, he works as a Graduate Assistant at Florida International University where he contributes to STEM education research.