Friday, April 18, 2014

It's sap tapping time in interior Alaska!

With the pounding of a nail into birch bark, spring has sprung in interior Alaska.

And with that, SNRE Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers is traveling to schools around the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in the coming weeks, helping students learn the right way to tap for birch sap. His tiny car is packed with sap bags, tapping equipment and white buckets.

Zachary Meyers, right, taps a birch tree for sap at Randy Smith Middle School.
Through the OneTree Alaska program, students learn the science of one of the state's purest natural resources, birch sap. They measure the concentration of sugar, volume of sap and air temperature at their trees, recording data just as scientists do.

On Thursday, Meyers visited Chris Pastro's extended learning classroom at Randy Smith Middle School. The seventh and eighth graders excitedly strapped on snowshoes and tromped through the adjacent forest to tap their first schoolyard birch. Pastro's classes have participated in OneTree activities since the beginning of the program in 2009 but they had previously tapped trees on the UAF campus, not in their own schoolyard.

"I want them to be keen observers and discover what is going on inside the tree this time of year," Pastro said. "I want them to make connections through scientific data but also through writing and art and to notice what is going on in our own backyards."

Pastro loves that OneTree projects are hands-on, not just learned from reading a book. "They will actually be measuring and analyzing," she said. Her classes have been conducting three water treatments for birch sapling dormancy since January and have gotten valuable results. Before the end of the school year, they will plant the saplings at the UAF University Park Building.

Another aspect of OneTree that Pastro raves about is the opportunity for students to work alongside scientists. "They see the possibilities and begin to think they could do that type of work too."

Meyers enjoys helping students learn the practical aspects of the science they have studied all year. "And they get a sense of responsibility when they are harvesting a natural resource," he said.

Chris Pastro, right, points out the differences in absorption of colors as Zachary Meyers holds the containers.

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