Feel the STEAM: Maple Sugaring at Willow

by | Jan 1, 2016 | Homepage News | 0 comments

STEAM (the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) opportunities form naturally at The Willow School.  During the late winter, maple sugaring affords such an opportunity. Students in multiple grades work together from late February to early April to tap maple trees in our woods, collect the sap, and then boil the sap into syrup. The integration of scientific knowledge of trees, mathematical ratios involved in the boiling process, legends and culture of the Lenape, various technologies employed, and the expression of the process through acting and art bring a deep understanding and create a joyful and tasty experience.

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Maple sugaring inspires a sense of wonder for all ages, yet there is nothing better than seeing the excitement of a kindergartner who has just discovered sap flowing for the first time. In the fall, each child adopts and studies a tree in the school’s west woods; an area that can be seen from the classroom windows, and that is also the school’s playground. Students learn about a tree’s needs, the community surrounding the trees, and how trees are important to all living things. Students draw pictures of their special trees, create a three dimensional tree, and sing songs and write stories about their trees. Kindergarteners revisit their trees and work with second and seventh grade buddies to tap the trees for sap and begin the syruping process. Kindergartners lead the group in a blessing to give thanks to the trees.

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Come recess time, students in all grades dash out to the trees to check the buckets for sap. Since the trees are in the playground area, all students participate in the excitement. The process also encourages students to pay attention to the weather. Freezing nights, along with above-freezing days, cause sap to flow. Seeing the sap flow makes science come alive and further develops a sense of respect and love for the trees. As kindergarteners boil the sap in the classroom, they learn about evaporation, a great hands-on introduction to learning about the water cycle.
In second grade, maple sugaring history and culture is explored from the perspective of the Lenape. Before tapping the trees, students work together to plan and act out a Lenape legend about the story of the first maple tree to produce sap. Once the sap is collected, they measure the amount of sap the trees produce. After boiling the sap to create syrup, students make a final measurement and the amounts are compared to each other. This project is also a seamless introduction to the changing states of matter and the water cycle in science.

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Seventh graders work on a year-long phenology project by studying the changes of multiple plants at the school, with maple trees included among them. Seventh graders also incorporate math as they determine how many gallons of sap are necessary to produce syrup, and the relationships between sap production, tree size and weather. It is their responsibility to teach their kindergarten and second grade buddies about the process and help them collect the sap in jugs, record the volume on a spreadsheet and perform the final calculations.

Finally, the entire school gets involved in the boiling process as sap is boiled in the Teaching Kitchen during the last week of March, culminating in a special maple syrup lunch in early April.

This is how Willow teaches for deep understanding while keeping the love of learning alive.

Marissa Mizeski

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