Environmental didactics and education

Contact: Roberto Pini (Unit of Pisa)


Awareness of the importance of soil in daily life is a critical part of environmental education for school children. The topics of our activities include: Composting, Biodiversity of the soil and Wildflowers. The Composting process offers great insights for children from elementary to middle school. All that is required is a bin or wooden box, gardening tools and a thermometer. Schools that provide school meals and have a garden can easily organize a compost system and the children can take part in the collection and recycling process, and of course use the end product. This educational course is very effective in teaching youngsters the importance of soil, organic matter and the cycling of nutrient elements. It also provides a fundamental contribution to the public collection of organic waste. In fact, in Italy there is a serious indifference towards municipal organic waste, which ends up being collected only by volunteers. The Biodiversity of the soil is an indicator of the quality and stability of the ecosystems that it supports. The edaphic community incorporates animal and vegetable residues plus the organic waste in the soil. This creates humus, which is so important for the conservation of the chemical and physical characteristics of the soil itself, and it also recycles the carbon and mineral nutrients. Planting a lawn full of Wildflowers is interesting from two levels - social and naturalistic. This type of vegetation sparks off a whole host of emotions in people, it creates curiosity and gets people talking and becoming more aware of ecological issues. Secondly, it is a habitat for many insects and small animals. Children are always fascinated by pollinating insect fauna and butterflies. Thus sowing a lawn with wildflower seeds, watching the flowers grow and seeing how insects and other small animals behave is an endless source of knowledge.




The projects carried out each year are supported by local councils. The children collect the waste from their tables after lunch and the waste from their school's garden, and monitor the transformation by measuring the temperature. The experience of composting starts at the beginning of the school year in September, and by spring the compost at the base of the bins is ready for use in allotments or in pots, after a simple phytotoxicity test. One of the most exciting experiments included in studying the biodiversity of soil is with a Berlese funnel to observe the meso-fauna, with the help of a stereomicroscope and a web camera, insects can be shown on a monitor.

Part of the project involves wildflowers being used as a way to bring colour to school gardens and improve biodiversity in the city. The children experience a kind of open-air lab where they can follow the various biological phases of many species, from germination to flowering and to the formation of the seed, and observe the insects and other small animals. In the classroom their observations provide a springboard for studying botany, entomology and ecology. This then leads to individual or group research into understanding more complex concepts, such as the food chain and the ecosystem.


Environmental didactics and education
Name TopicPosition
Roberto Pini   Soil phyisics Permanent researcher
Francesca Bretzel   Agricultural sciences Permanent researcher

Recent publications

1- Bretzel F., Sparvoli E. Promoting environmental awareness by recycling of organic waste in primary school. In: SUITMA - V International Conference on Soil of Urban, Industrial, Traffic, Mining and Military Areas (New York, USA, 21-25 settembre 2009).   

2- Bretzel F., Della Maggiore A., Pezzarossa B. La natura va a scuola. Linee guida per la creazione di un prato fiorito nel giardino delle scuole. 48 p. Sesto Fiorentino (FI): Press Service srl, 2010.  

3- Bretzel F. L'esperienza didattica nel progetto. N. Senesi & T. Miano (eds.). Bari: Società Italiana Scienza del Suolo, 2007.

4- Bretzel F., Sparvoli E. Il compostaggio nelle scuole elementari nell'ambito del progetto INFEA. In: Convegno Nazionale Scienza del Suolo "Il suolo: sistema centrale nell'ambiente e nell'agricoltura" (Bari, Abstract, 2005.

5- Sparvoli E. 2008. Gianna e il compost magico in Laboratorio di Esperienze 4-5. Guida di Scienze, Tecnologia e Informatica, a cura di Gervasoni W. e Cigada F. Nicola Milano Editore, Bologna.