Systems and Stewardship at the Living Machine

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Students will learn how IslandWood uses the Living Machine as a way to be a steward of the space we are in.  There are lots of possibilities to expand this lesson.


  • Students will be able to:                     
    • Explain to a partner how the living machine works (macro invertebrates turning waste into usable biomass for plants.
    • Reflect on other ways IslandWood is a steward of the environment.

Informal Assessments:

Age group: 4th-6th

Venue/s: Living Machine


Time: 30 minutes-1 hour

Set up: none

The Lesson Plan:


The Living Machine is a great place to explore systems and discuss stewardship with your students.


Start by having students share what they think of when they hear the word "machine." Why would we call our machine "living"? What do you think a "living machine" might do? What is its function?

Beginning of Lesson:

After students make predictions, explain that the living machine is an example of a system.

  • What is a system?
  • Which other examples of systems can you think of? (ecosystem, car, organism...)
  • Systems are made up of components and subsystems that interact.
  • Systems have inputs and outputs.

This is a great chance to discuss or reintroduce ecosystems and how their components interact.

Additionally, the human body is a fun, relevant example of a system to explore during this lesson:

  • What are some components of the human body? How might those components interact?
  • What are some of the human body's subsystems? (circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive...)
  • What might be an "input" into the human body system? What would be the "output" from the system?

Ask the students what they ate for breakfast this morning. For example: Eggs were the input to their digestive systems. What was the output from their digestive systems? Poop! Where did that poop go? Down the toilet (hopefully)! If that poop was flushed down a toilet in the Dining Hall, Admin Building, or Ichthyology Inn, then it is now an input to the Living Machine system!

Explore and tour the various parts of the living machine, discussing the different subsystems that process, filter, and disinfect the wastewater so that it may be reused. Before exploring the Living Machine with your students, be sure to check out its IW Wiki page so you're prepared to help them answer questions about the different components and processes within the system and how each contributes to the final output of reusable water!

Explain that the purpose of the Living Machine System is to clean, filter and disinfect the water that comes from The Learning Studios, Icthyology Inn, The Dining Hall and The Admin Building.  The water is not reused for drinking or cleaning, but IslandWood is working on getting it certified to put back in our toilets.  

  • This might be a good time to ask why they think we do this?  Why is it important?
  • Where do we get our water from?
  • You could ask more questions about water and the availability of it on Earth.

End of Lesson:

To conclude the lesson, point out that using the Living Machine to reclaim our wastewater is one way that IslandWood practices stewardship. Would constructing a living machine in the students' backyards or apartment buildings be a realistic way for them to reclaim their family's wastewater at home? Probably not, but are there other ways that 5th graders can practice stewardship of water at home? Have the students provide examples of stewardship practices they already use at home to conserve water. Next, have them brainstorm ways they will practice stewardship of water with their families when they return home.


Relevant Journal Pages:

  • "Ecosystem Inputs and Outputs" pg.4
  • "Things and Roles in an Ecosystem" pg.5
  • Blank pages


Additional Resources:

  • Jeff is a great resource