Thursday, April 4, 2013

As sap gets ready to run, OneTree picks up speed for spring

OneTree's Janice Dawe (right) and Watershed teacher Marlene McDermott take measurements in the forest March 30.
Continuing education is as much a part of OneTree as sap is to the birch trees of the boreal forest.

While the ultimate goal is to help children understand the value of scientific observations in the forest, it takes knowledgeable teachers to make it happen. The dedicated OneTree affiliates often spend their off-time attending workshops taught by OneTree coordinator and forestry assistant professor Janice Dawe.

As spring nears, Dawe has stepped up the pace to help the teachers prepare for repeated journaling to track the change of seasons, tapping trees for birch syrup, creating lesson plans to help students understand anatomy and physiology of plants moving out of winter dormancy and into spring flowering and bud burst and summer growth.

A recent chilly Saturday found Dawe and crew in the forest at UAF’s Troth Yedda, practicing birch tapping methods. “Sap rising is one of the first indicators of the onset of spring,” Dawe said.
“I’ve been wanting to do this a long time,” Watershed teacher Moira O’Malley said. “Our kids have adopted a tree in the boreal forest and this is another component of studying birch. It’s interactive and you get to taste the syrup.”
Nicky Eiseman (left) and Susan Campbell, both teachers at Anne Wien Elementary, practice birch tapping March 30.

Susan Campbell, who teaches at Anne Wien Elementary, wants her students to learn stewardship of trees and good science. “They’re learning hands-on science with local resources, writing, art and traditional Athabascan uses,” she said.

“There are cross-curricular connections,” said Nicky Eiseman, also an Anne Wien teacher. “They grow seedlings and keep science journals.”

After learning how to tap trees, the workshop moved to a Cooperative Extension Service kitchen where sap gathered last year (which had been frozen) was cooked into syrup. “The teachers want the students to understand it takes a lot of sap to produce syrup,” Dawe said. Each school will do its own collecting and cooking. Participating this spring are Anne Wien, Salcha, Watershed, Pearl Creek and Tanana Middle School.

Typically sap starts running by April 15, but it has arrived as early as March 29 and as late as May 1. “It’s really variable,” Dawe said. Once the sap flows it is usually about three weeks until greenup, she added.

Students will learn what sap is and why it is important, where it comes from and why trees need sap. “Sap is like money in the bank,” Dawe said. “It allows a flush of growth using the sugar in the sap. Sap moves against gravity; it’s how growth is initiated in the spring.”

One lesson involves children building replicas of the inside of trees with modeling clay to learn how a tree grows and how sap is established.

OneTree is working to integrate curricula, such as reading, writing, journaling, math, biology, phenology, scientific methods and hypotheses testing. “We’re asking teachers to do a lot,” Dawe said. “It’s our hope that this training will make them more comfortable working with the forest and that they will become teacher mentors, making this work sustainable.”

Ten teachers have been attending OneTree weekend workshops since January. The series, dubbed “OneTree: From Seed to Tree,” is taught through SNRAS as Natural Resources Management 595. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is a partner in the project.

OneTree’s affiliated classrooms are using the Grinnell System, a method of documenting scientific observations. The students collect data in field notebooks and transfer it to journals, combining art and science. “Kids get the idea of always doing this in a standard way,” Dawe said.

In their schoolyard habitats, students will keep records of leaves, birds, insects, whatever they observe. “They will track what is happening in their plot,” Dawe said. “They are getting ready to do citizen science. This long-term ecological monitoring can be done right at their own sites.”
UAF graduate student Andrew Allaby taught forest measurement techniques to the OneTree teachers.

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