Wednesday, June 5, 2013

OneTree education outreach explodes as school year ends

Chris Pastro welcomed Birch Pavelsky to her Randy Smith Middle School classroom.

The last few weeks of school in Fairbanks found an explosion of OneTree Alaska activities in the classrooms and forests, involving everything from a knitting needle factory to birch sap tapping to an outing based on the novel “Hatchet.”

Along with all the usual OneTree activities incorporating citizen science, phenology and art, teachers branched out into wider areas as they became bolder in using OneTree in their curricula.

Chris Pastro at Randy Smith Middle School invited expert craftsman Birch Pavelsky to work with her students in May to manufacture knitting needles, chopsticks and hair chops. Her classroom was abuzz while students ground birch into needles, sanded them and measured them. The students chatted excitedly while working.

A student in Chris Pastro's class makes knitting needles.
Prior to production day, Pastro and the students had dried the birch branches, took several weights and measurements and did loss prediction and actual loss (of moisture content). To cover the artistic aspect, students also drew sketches of birch leaves on watercolor paper.

The students learned to recognize types and characteristics of wood used in making needles and to identify genus and species of the tree. They even created business plans for marketing the birch products.

Students forced birch to create buds, then leaves, then watched them enter dormancy.
Throughout the winter and into the spring Pastro’s class had studied the effects of different soils on tree growth, along with observing germination, growth and dormancy. Each student kept a OneTree journal.

“It’s been a wonderful long-term project for these students,” Pastro said. “They know more about birch than a lot of people.” She loves that the project incorporates science, math, art, writing and interpreting data.

“I want my students to be citizen scientists and observe the natural world,” Pastro said. “They are learning to understand the life cycle of birch. It’s good for them to slow down and understand something in their back yard and appreciate it.”

Being involved in OneTree has added the element of curiosity, Pastro said. “It says to them let’s look closer.”

Another wonderful aspect has been the visitors. Having a scientist and graduate students work alongside the children has been inspiring, Pastro said. “It’s been invaluable to the students to see someone working in the field and to see that they love their jobs.”

Teacher Carri Forbes was thrilled with the sap harvest.
Field trips throughout mid-May found students from several schools visiting the UAF campus to measure the volume of sap flowing from the birch trees alongside Thompson Drive and then to measure the sap’s sugar content. Students measured the height and diameter of trees and distance to nearest neighbors. They even made a birch drink from the sap.
OneTree Alaska Director Jan Dawe helped students measure sap during one of the field trips.
“It’s an ecological unit,” teacher Carri Forbes of Tanana Middle School said. “To get kids to buy into plants is not that easy. With this we study the food web and the energy pyramid.”

Art is an important component of OneTree activities. (Photo by Nicky Eiseman)

Jan Dawe pours birch sap for Anne Wien students. (Photo by Nicky Eiseman)
Teacher Nicky Eiseman of Anne Wien Elementary School created her own OneTree element by drawing on the book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Her class had been reading the book and she decided to take her students May 20 to a park near the school to use birch bark to start a campfire and to drink the birch sap they had collected.

“I thought OneTree was a really cool idea,” Eiseman said. "There are exciting innovative people involved; it's science and art and it's very intellectual.”

“I don't think I realized how powerful it was till we got these little birch trees in my classroom. I saw the bond that grew between my students and their trees and how intimately they observed the growth and development of the trees and were concerned about them. Once outside we were able to make all kinds of connections with other plants based on the knowledge they gained from caring for one specific tree. From making observations and doing weekly recordings and making predictions, they were able to extrapolate that knowledge to other plants.

“Jan was fearless in using scientific terminology and making it accessible. The kids loved the idea of being foster parents to the trees. This was a living thing that needed caring for and we were doing that.

“It was being part of real science.”

“Ms. Eiseman is a great OneTree teacher, new to the project this year,” said OneTree Alaska Director Jan Dawe. “She opened her doors wide, which involves quite a bit of risk and then she worked right alongside us. Her input about classroom management techniques helped all of us, especially the service learners, become comfortable about facilitating classroom activities and lessons.

“Teachers like this go the extra mile every day to help students, be they 10 years old or 45, to learn the most from every situation, every exploration, that comes their way,” Dawe said.

“OneTree is becoming a much more solid K-20 STEAM program because of teachers like her and the grad student service learners.”

Nicky Eiseman builds a campfire with birch.

OneTree staff and volunteers celebrated spring with a "From Seed to Tree" gathering May 10.

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