Figuring It Out With A Little Help From Our Trees

March 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”  ~John Dewey

They had a measuring tape wrapped around a big sugar maple.  A few minutes later, with the help of a handdrill, a drillbit, a spile, and a little muscle, too, the tree was tapped.  (Spile [spīl] n: A spigot used in taking sap from a tree.)  They hung the metal bucket and carefully placed the lid on top to protect the sap that had started to flow.  Twenty minutes later, sitting around a table back in their classroom, the Investigators (our 2nd-4th graders) used the circumference measurements along with Pi and a handy formula to calculate the diameter of each tree they had chosen.  They were making sure that the drill had not touched the heartwood at the center of the trees, but had only bored holes into the sapwood, which can repair itself once the spiles are removed.  They then listed on notecards all the information and facts they know about maple sugaring, and posted them on the wall.

  • You go and put a ‘spiral’ in the tree and tap it and don’t tap heartwood.
  • Maple syrup tastes AWESOME!
  • That the trees feed off the sun’s light.

The next round of notecards got filled with questions – what do we wonder about maple trees and maple sugaring?

  • Do the trees love us?
  • Why does the flow change?
  • How long have the trees been here? How many years have they been tapped?

The following day, the Investigators forged ahead with their new maple sugaring project. They recorded the high and low temperatures (42° and 26°), pointing out that the days must be warm and the nights cold for the sap to run.  They collected and measured the sap from each of their nine trees.  They charted the amounts, compared them, and then added them together so that they could record the daily total.  So far: 3 gallons and 1 cup.  Erika pointed out that her tree only produced 2 ounces and Simone’s tree gave 2 cups.  I observed, “That’s interesting.  Is one tree bigger?”  “No, they’re almost the same size.”  “So why would they give different amounts?”  “That’s what I’m wondering, too!  That’s what we’re gonna figure out.”

New skills – math, science, writing, research, history, reading – and new concepts, too.  What does nature do to keep itself going?  How do people work together with a shared purpose?  How do things grow and change over time?  We’ll all be working to figure it out, investigating together.  The process is equally as important as the product here.  But, hey, the product sure does taste good…I can’t wait for those pancakes!  Here’s to a sweet coming of the spring…

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in 2008. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has written a handful of postings on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: classrooms, collaboration, community, constructivism, curriculum, integrated curricula, literacy, math, science, social-emotional learning.

Museums, Public Spaces, and Life-long Learning SAVE THE DATE! May 21st…Back-to-Back Alumni Events

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