Cool Tools Review







Trimaco 9 ft. x 12 ft. Eco Plastic Drop Cloth



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 Watering Can



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12 Cool Tools tried and tested by Green STEM Learning

1.0 Camera with video

Nikon Coolpix AW130

Robust, waterproof 30 m, easy-to-use, long battery life, some zoom, also takes video.

2.0 Composters

2.1 Steel barrel-type outdoors

ComposTumbler - several models by Mantis

These are robust. The steel outdoor models (double or single compartment) are rodent-proof in use. However some of these tumblers are tall and maybe too high for young students to observe the compost process. The tumblers can be heavy to rotate, and watch out for safety issues with the gears. I have tried other lighter plastic composters, but rodents gnawed through several plastic composters of various designs I have tried.

What are your favorite composters?

2.2 Mesh-Cube outdoors

This one is designed and built to order by students at Arlington Career Center.

It is a sturdy timber-frame clad in metal mesh 'hardware cloth'.

I am trial testing a prototype at Jamestown Elementary School, and so far after nearly a year's use it is rodent-proof. Students can use this one to add organics from the garden, and the lid is a good seal.How long will this composter last before the hardware cloth rusts, or the timber rots?

2.3 Indoor Composter

Try a Worm Factory 360 and get one or two pounds of red wiggler worms too from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm and start your own composting. I have this composter in my home kitchen, and bring worms to school occasionally for classes.

2.4 Compost Providers

For example, in our metro DC area contact Compost Crew and Compost Cab

2.5 Earth Worm Castings

Or buy worm compost at your garden center -such as OrganoRich Earth Worm Castings

3.0 Dropcloths

This underlay is biodegradeable (in two years or so) on mulched paths, or use to protect surfaces. EcoDrop Biodegradeable Plastic Dropcloth 9 ft x 12 ft made by Trimaco and from Home Depot and elsewhere.

4.0 Leaf Scoops by Gardex

I call these Dinosaur Paws. Young students love them - as much as I do!

$5 - $13 various vendors including Amazon, Walmart and your local hardware store

5.0 Pruners

5.1 Pruners for adults:

Felco F-2 Classic 5 inch bypass pruners

If you are getting one pair of pruners for yourself or a colleague for a lifetime of gardening - get these!

About $45

5.2 Pruners for young elementary-age students

Try 1/2 inch Gilmour anvil pruners. You can buy from a farm supply in a 5-pack.

Even young students (K and up) enjoy safely clipping with these small pruners.

We go over rules and tools first, and we walk with them point down in the outdoor classroom (like scissors in the indoor classroom) and practice using the safety catch. We use these small pruners to clip plants like lavender, and deadhead other flowers. I keep the pruners in the shed, on a shelf in a box out of the children's reach.

About $10 - 12

6.0 Signs for Plant NOVA Native

Mary Van Dyke helped to design these signs probono, and profits go to

See link at

Price depends on your customization

7.0 Temperature Sensors from Vernier Instruments

7.1 Go Wireless Temp - $79 for use with iPhone and iPad for example

7.2 Go!Temp - $39

These are ideal for soil and air temperature sensing outdoors, select depending on your USB or wireless capability.

8.0 Trowel

This Corona Transplanter 3020i is my favorite trowel for using with pre-K students and up. It is one piece, so the blade does not drop off. The narrow blade cuts through compacted schoolyard soil. The depth gauge is handy for projects such as Journey North Tulip planting. The handle is a comfort grip, bright red and easy to see in the garden.

About $7

9.0 Trugs, Tool Carrying and Harvesting Baskets

9.1 People ask me "What is that basket?" I say "It is a Trug". And then they ask me, "Where did you get it from?" I get my wooden Trugs from Waterperry Gardens Nursery in the UK, and they are Sussex Thomas Smith's Trugs made by the Cuckmere Trug Company in various sizes for harvesting and carrying tools. I have a couple of sizes, big and small that nest. They are indispensable for carrying an array of teaching tools. Buy one direct from the UK and the Cuckmere Trug Company.

9.2 If you would like to buy one of these trug-type harvesting baskets here in the US try Joseph Bentley for this slightly retro-looking two-handled version as in the photo.


10.0 Watering Cans

10.1 Dramm 7 liter and 10 liter watering cans

You may splash out and buy a beautiful 7 liter Dramm red watering can for home use, rather than for school. I love Dramm watering cans, but they are expensive.

10.2 Discount School Supplies, small watering can

Each year I work with student focus groups to test an assortment of watering cans, large and small. Students usually prefer these small watering cans from Discount School Supply.

These small watering cans are at an affordable price, so buy a few, one for each student in a gardening group. Supplement the school stock with a couple of larger watering cans with screw-on roses.

$5 each

11.0 Waterproof Treeless Polyester Paper

Try TerraSlate waterproof treeless polyester paper for outdoor use, and for color or B+W laser printing signs and scavenger hunts. TerraSlate is my go-to outdoor paper for easy-to-make garden signs and labels, suitable for the ever-changing schoolyard environment.

4 mm is lightweight

7 mm is suitable for signs, labels and information sheets

10 mm 'menu card' is good for printing scavenger hunts and more durable signs and labels and information sheets

Terraslate also provide printing services if you need them.

12.0 Wheelbarrows, Yardcarts and Smartcarts

12.1 Smartcart

My all-time favorite yardcart is a Muller's Smartcart. This is the Porsche of yardcarts, and often imitated. If you have the budget... This cart is endorsed and used by zookeepers at the Smithsonian to clean out the elephants. I can carry heavy loads in mine balanced on a finger or two, and it is robust in use. The tires are puncture-free. The bed is detachable - so the cart fits in my car.

About $250 and up

12.2 small lawn cart 3.25 cu ft

More within my usual school budget, I stock with a small Rubbermaid lawncart 3.25 cu ft

About $45

12.3 medium lawn cart 4.75 cu feet

I opt for lawn carts over classic one-wheel wheelbarrows as I need to go through the school corridors with students. I have used one-wheelers at schools, but likely we would be tipping loads if we used wheelbarrows indoors.

About $60

12.4 Small Red Wheelbarrow

Students pre-K - 5 love the classic small red wheelbarrows!

And as the William Carlos Williams poem goes:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


“The Red Wheelbarrow” By William Carlos Williams, from THE COLLECTED POEMS: Volume I, 1909-1939, copyright © 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Quoted via the Poetry Foundation LINK


Purchase at your own risk.

I have no financial interest in the companies selling these products listed in the Cool Tools section, apart from Green STEM Learning. I reserve the right to add and remove products. Links are to external vendors that are easy to find, and their featuring here no way implies that they are the only vendor, best, or the cheapest. Opinions expressed here are my own. Please contact me with comments.