Tuesday, May 20, 2014

OneTree Alaska takes science to classrooms

Natural resources managers in training (aka third graders) worked with Research Assistant Professor Janice Dawe this week, concluding a school year of OneTree Alaska activities.

Throughout the school year, Dawe has visited Charmaree Cook's classroom at Badger Road Elementary School, teaching the importance of the birch tree, how to collect scientific data on trees and grow and plant them. In April the students tapped a birch tree in their school yard and on Monday worked with Dawe to cook it into syrup.

A student uses a refractometer during a OneTree Alaska outreach activity.
"You guys chose a champion tree," Dawe said. The students chimed in, calling it the "Birch King" and the "King of All Trees."

Cook's class collected five gallons of sap from their tree. This week Dawe ran it through the OneTree Alaska reverse osmosis unit. She set up several jugs of sap for the students to taste, from nearly pure water to concentrated sap.

The entire class toasted with the sweeter drink. "It smells like butter," said one student. "It tastes like macaroni," said another. "It tastes like sweet tea," one girl wrote in her journal. Another wrote, "Clear sap tastes funny. Dark sap tastes terrible."

"Turning birch sap into syrup is a real delicate process," Dawe said. Pointing to the pure water, she said, "This is a valuable forest product."
Jan Dawe pours birch sap in a Badger Road Elementary classroom.

She taught the children how to use a hydrometer and a refractometer. "This is real science," Dawe said. After asking for hypothoses, she said, "In science you start with questions you don't know the answer to and form your ideas."

This is Cook's second year with OneTree Alaska. "Last year we studied the growth of trees; this year they are surprisingly interested in data collection, in scientific measurements and comparing, of making observations and predictions," Cook said.

"I've found it encouraging that they are doing a lot of writing. Some are reluctant writers on topics I give them but with this they are writing without knowing they're writing."

Charmaree Cook, left, uses a refractometer as Jan Dawe observes.
The students learned about photosynthesis and they know the parts of the birch tree inside and out, from the outer bark to the heartwood. "You are quite the team coming up with these answers," Dawe said.

She said this class has been exceptional at remembering what she teaches them. "For the next few years keep watching birch trees," she advised. "No matter what else is going on in your lives I hope you will all look at birch trees."

Summing up the year-long classroom educational aspects, Dawe said, "This is authentic.They are learning to become natural resources managers."
A student records his ideas in a journal.

Yum! Students enjoyed tasting the sap.

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