Contributed by Les Asselstine.
Help your students become more aware and knowledgeable about the natural environment in their community. This can be done by examining natural communities near fences, under logs, and in cracks of the pavement. One particularly good strategy is to have groups of students ‘adopt a tree’ for a year.
Activities may be spread out by having short visits once per week.
Conduct a tree survey around your school. This might include trees on the schoolyard and also those on the boulevard. Start by having students identify what they believe to be the largest tree. What is meant by ‘largest’? We can compare height by examining shadows and we can compare diameter by hugging. Why would it be important to compare shadows at the same time? Why would it be important to have the same student ‘hug’ the trees that are being compared?
Look for another tree that is the same kind as the largest tree. How do we know it is the same?
Look for another tree that is a different kind. How do we know?
How many different kinds of trees are there? How are they the same? How are they different?
Once each small group has adopted one of the trees, they might do some or all of the following. If possible, have each group adopt a different variety of tree. Ideally, one or more will be evergreen.
- Use a tape measure to measure the diameter of the trunk at 1 metre above the ground.
- Describe and draw a picture of the tree. Note branch patterns and leaves. Also note other features like moss or fungus.
- Collect one leaf and describe it.
- Use modeling clay to take an impression of the bark and a leaf.
- Record observations of animals on or near the tree. Remember to look closely for insects and other small invertebrates.
Repeat any activities that are appropriate. Record and compare observations. Particularly, notice how some trees change more and possibly more rapidly.
Some observations may be shown using a graph.
Continue visiting the trees on a regular basis. Try to time visits so that students note the emergence of leaves.
Through the year, you might consider
- keeping a log in the form of a calendar,
- having students gather information about the tree species being observed,
- studying how a tree provides a habitat for other life forms, and/or
- creating a bulletin board where students maintain current information about their trees.
Students gain a better understanding of ‘environment’ by becoming more aware of the specifics of their immediate environment. They are more likely to care for an environment that they know well and they are more likely to feel a ‘part’ of nature when teachers engage them in respectfully observing the complexities of the natural world.