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Science Enrichment - Trees 01 - What is science? What is a tree? Exploring Leaves.

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« Put your clothes on the rack, and let Nature dry them for free! | Main | Radio France »

Science Enrichment - Trees 01 - What is science? What is a tree? Exploring Leaves.

This is the first of three science lessons on trees that I've prepared for the Kindergarten-1st grade science enrichment at Discovery Charter School. They do learning around themes, and TREES are the theme for fall. So be it. There is plenty of scientific learning to be done around trees. And since I got my B.S. (that's a Bachelor of Science degree, not Bull Shit) in Ecology with a Botany focus, and almost got my Masters in a similar area, yo...I got mad science skillz, y'all. Also, my student job for several years in a row at SFSU was setting up the General Biology labs each week with live and dead plants and animals, fungi, insects, body parts in jars, wall charts, printed materials, underlined textbooks, all kinds of crazy stuff. I loved that job. I also got to collect, organize and curate all those hundreds of curious things. Wonderful. Cute little cross-eyed planarians!

I'm putting up my lesson plan and materials because it might be useful to other people in a similar situation, and homeschoolers might want to use some or all of the lesson plan and materials with their kids. I'm teaching K/1 students, but I found that we only got to about 30% of the material in class. Kids were too squirrelly in the large group, we didn't have all the parent helpers we were supposed to have, and I overprepared as usual.

I think you could easily use this in a grade 2 or 3 setting, or even higher. I tried to focus on broad concepts. What is science? What is a tree? How do we get from trees? Then the class starts to explore leaves using some basic scientific skills: detailed observation, simple identification of species from leaf and seed specimens, leaf rubbings and drawings, descriptive terminology to describe kinds of leaves and parts of a leaf. Frankly, most adults don't know all this stuff. Anyone can do it and learn something about trees. Do *you* know all the parts of a leaf? Hmmm?

So first, the overall Lesson Plan. I think the best way to present this session is to simply hyperlink from the lesson plan. It's the core. From here you can access everything else.


Welcome to Science Enrichment! Who knows what science is?

· Science is observing the world around you...animals, plants, birds, insects, rocks, clouds, bacteria, water droplets, even outer space… and asking questions about these things and how they work.

· Now make a guess (hypothesis) at a possible answer to your question, and design an experiment to test if that answer could be right or not. Then see what results you get. That is called the scientific method.

· An example: you observe that your dog wags his tail a lot. You think that a wagging tail means that your dog is happy. So you write down what is going on every time you see your dog wagging his tail. He gets food, you pet him, you throw a ball for him, someone he loves comes home, he’s getting ready to go for a walk, he meets another dog that he likes to play with…you notice that there is a pattern…these are all happy events for your dog! If you yell at your dog or punish him, does his tail wag? No. Out of 10 times that your dog wagged his tail, all ten of those waggings took place during a happy event. None happened during a sad event. There is strong evidence that your dog wags his tail when he is happy.

Do you like to find out how things work? Great. Today we are going to start learning about trees. Trees are one kind of plant. Who can tell me what a plant is?

· A plant is a living organism that gathers water and nutrients from the soil, and makes food in its leaves using energy from the sun.

Can an animal make food from the sun?
· No, animals cannot make their own food. Animals use plants or other animals for their food. Only PLANTS can make food from the sun.

There are many different kinds of plants...grasses, vines, bushes, ferns, mosses, green algae but today we are going to talk about trees. Who knows what a tree is? How is a tree different from other plants?

· A tree is the largest of all plants, and it is different from other plants in several ways:
· Most trees grow at least 15-20 feet tall. That is about twice as high as our classroom ceiling. So trees are TALL.
· Trees have a woody stem that is called a trunk, that grows at least 3-4 inches thick and can stand up by itself. So trees also have thick, hard TRUNKS.

Now that we know what a tree is, who can tell me some things that we get from trees?

(I bought a fabulous Understanding Trees - 4 Poster Set from Nature-Watch. They rock.)

· Shade. Where do you like to sit on a hot day?
· Clean air. Trees remove icky stuff from the air and create oxygen, which is what WE breathe.
· Homes for animals. What animals live in or around trees? Birds, squirrels, bugs, mice.
· Food for animals AND humans. Bark, nuts, leaves, seeds and fruit! Can you name a fruit that grows on trees?
· Wood. Can you find something in the classroom made of wood?
· Paper. We all use a lot of paper, don't we? Paper is made of wood that is ground up very, very small, mixed with water, and then spread thinly on a mesh screen. When it dries, we get a sheet of paper! About 10 MILLION trees are cut down to make paper every day.
· Rain! Trees create moisture in the air by pulling water up from the ground and putting it into the air through tiny holes in their leaves. When there is more moisture in the air, clouds can form and rain can fall. So trees help make rain!
· Medicine: too many to list! Aspirin (willow trees), taxol (yew trees), etc.

First we're going to BE a tree, and then we're going to SEE a tree. Everybody stand up, we're going to act out the parts of a tree so that we can remember them.

(to tune of “London Bridge is falling down”)
“Leaves (fingers raised and wiggling), branches (arms straight out forward),
trunk (touch belly with hands) and roots (touch legs/feet)
trunk and roots,
trunk and roots,
leaves, branches, trunk and roots,
those are the parts of a tree!”

And now to SEE a tree!
Take class around the school to see the trees around it.
· Have them name the parts they just acted out. What roots can they see?
· Note differences between conifer and broadleaf trees.
· Have each student collect a leaf or two to bring back to class if they like.

1. Describe Your Leaf!
Each student needs a leaf from outside or from the leaf collection. Writers can optionally have a paper and pencil to write down their description words

Use these documents:
Describe Your Leaf - Instructions
Describe Your Leaf Activity Sheet

Have each student carefully examine his/her leaf and then describe it using some of the terms listed on the activity sheet for this center. Does it have needles or broad leaves? Alternate or opposite leaves? Read the list of description words to the students to help them describe their leaves. You can do each leaf as a group exercise and get input from everyone if you like. Is there consensus on the answers?

2. Worksheets
Need pencils, pens, crayons, scissors.
Worksheet Instructions
Rodney the Root Says...
Is It a Tree?
Explore Tree Shapes

3. Leaf Rubbings
Need white paper and crayons with paper peeled off, leaves of the student's choice. Can they point out the parts of a leaf on their rubbings?
Leaf Anatomy Diagram

4. Identify the Tree
Match 6 specimens of local tree leaves, seeds and bark to the photos and descriptions and see if you can identify them. Careful, each tree is paired with a tricky look-alike. Pay attention to little differences.

Redwood vs. Incense Cedar
Sycamore vs. Sweet Gum
Live Oak vs. Valley Oak

For this activity, you have to actually go out and collect some plant material. I chose 6 readily available trees in my area that I thought were interesting, three lookalike pairs of species to make it a little tricky. Probably ONE lookalike pair would have been fine for K/1. Three pairs were overkill. Oh well. They're pretty obvious to tell apart if you look at them closely, but at first glance they look similar and could be confused.

My advice is to ID *any* tree with the help of a local tree guidebook. Walk around your neighborhood and clip off some sample leaves from whatever you can find. Or get material from a tree that someone can identify for you, then Google information about it. Make a copy of the tree guide page or relevant Googled info/photo and see if kids can pick out the right tree from the leaves and materials.

Older kids can gather leaves from common trees and then use a tree key to try to identify what they found. It's very exciting. Once you identify a tree and look carefully at its leaves, seeds, etc., you don't forget it. You suddenly notice that tree EVERYWHERE! It becomes like an old friend. Super cool and kids DIG it. Naming the living organisms in your natural environment is an valuable skill, one that is being quickly lost in the modern world.

Extra time? Extra credit?
Play “Go Rake” with the Leaf Cards, or other Leaf Games.

Fun Interactive Online Exercise
Trees are Terrific! Travels with Pierre


I forgot to add that I put out magnifying glasses for the kids to use to closely examine the leaves and seed balls and bark. They dug it.

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