TREES: An Exploration!

Part 1 of 2

Check out our 10-session unit and see what’s happening on tree Mondays!

The Beginning!: Have you ever wondered if you and your students could co-create a unit of study? That’s just what we do with emergent, place-based education (PBE) curriculum at Engelmann Mountain School. The pictures above show where our students were starting. Everyone drew a picture of tree(s). We compared and contrasted our tree pictures to better understand what is similar and what is different. We acted out what “tree” means! Some kids grew from seeds and some kids had apples fall off their branches! These types of movements helped to engage our kinesthetic learners too!

Pictured below our students did some brainstorming about trees (ideas they had and things they “knew”) and asked questions about trees!

Cross curricular approach: Students spent time listening to and starting to read books about trees. This included beginning to get a sense of poetry. We listened to several poems, one even written by a 1st grader. It was great for kids to hear other kids “doing it”. They saw a place for themselves and got the necessary inspiration to write our class poem!

EMS 2021-2022 Students Class Poem

Questions Building and Deepening: From our initial brainstorm, it became clear that students had a sense that maple syrup came from our local trees at 8,000 ft in the Wasatch Mountains! In emergent PBE, we have an opportunity to explore these ideas rather than giving “the” answer. What an exciting opportunity to explore ideas and help kids learn to think. An experiment to tap some trees in the neighborhood formed. Our school sits on Forest Service land, so this particular activity needed to be completed on private residence land. We tapped an Aspen, Engelmann Spruce, and a Subalpine Fir and got excited for any results!

Community Engagement: PBE promotes learning and engagement with our community and connections to our environment! We are lucky to learn about the many organizations working right here in Big Cottonwood Canyon to engage and educate the people of Salt Lake City, UT. Cottonwood Canyons Foundation led a great trip at Spruces Campground, just down the canyon from our location at the Wasatch Mountain Lodge. There we learned more about the history of the Wasatch Nursery, got to see a spruce gall, and learned about the difference between male and female pinecones. The week prior we tried to find as many pinecones as possible around our school to extract a seed. Revisiting and learning more about pinecones was a huge hit!

We learned the difference between different evergreen trees with a little alliteration!

Spruce- square, sharp, stiff

Fir- flate, friendly, flexible

Pine- plural needles

Excitement of Discovery!: With the growing interest in pinecones our teacher felt pinecones could be the avenue for more cross curricular learning. This was our opportunity to introduce rulers, measurements, inches, circumference, and length all while exploring our pinecones dry, wet, room temperature, and cold. During this exploration we finally found seeds! The energy was so HIGH! We then planted our own pinecone seeds!

Stay tuned for part 2 as the kids see how their experiments will work …or not work as we celebrate the beauty of failure as inspiration for learning!

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