Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Project Learning Tree

Saturday, I went to a Project Learning Tree workshop at Rieth Interpretive Center in Goshen. It was a busy day, but I would have loved to spend more time on the topic and with the people attending. Thankfully, I do have the curriculum after attending and know how to find many of the people there. One lady who attended is an artist--I loved hearing her thoughts and applications on how to use different art applications to tie into nature.

Project Learning Tree is a multidiscipline curriculum that uses the forest as a springboard to help students understand environment, increase critical thinking and ability to make decisions, and to empower taking action in communities. I actually took this training about 13 years ago while living in Japan, but knew a refresher course, updated curriculum, and connecting with others in the area about local knowledge of trees would be beneficial. Plus, it was FREE! Elkhart County Soil and Water District Conservation underwrote the training for those living or working in Elkhart County. Still, it's only $20, so is an inexpensive way to learn about trees and get professional development credits. The instructors were Nancy Brown and Eric Kurtz from SWCD, as well as Aaron Kingsley, the Goshen city forester who works out of Rieth Interpretive Center.

We started by decorating tree cookies for name tags.

We also made our own "tree cookie" paper plates. This was a fun way to make a timeline! I decided I've lived way to many places!

The Project Learning Tree activity guide was given to us as part of the class. It is chock full of activities. As an educator, there are several things I like about the curriculum: 
  • Well laid out
  • Several appendices that help find information easily
  • Themed units with different ability levels and options for different ages
  • Literature extensions and activities
  • Supply lists
  • Connected, themed activities that make lesson planning easy
  • Expanded literature and technology resources on the PLT website, organized by topic 

We did a few activities outside of the Center. Aaron said the City of Goshen resurrected a greenhouse last year. All the flowers out front and around town are being locally grown there. It was nice seeing a little color! Also, just behind this area was just sown as a prairie by Cardno JFNew. I'm excited to watch this project take shape!


We tried the Tree Factory, which gives a visual with bodies of the parts of a tree. I went to a teaching with the brain in mind workshop before that focused on movement many moons ago--we did an active adaptation of this! I must say, Aaron did a great interpretation of the roots! He's quite animated in his readings and interpretations. 

We had reusable popsicle sticks for the activities and were even gifted a set before we left. I'll certainly use it! There are also other printable "helps" for this activity online. I like to know my resources and appreciate that others share what worked for them--including printables!

More pretty flowers out front!

Inside again, we talked about identifying trees. 

This dichotomous key from 50 Trees of Indiana (but also copied elsewhere--I've received copies at parks programs from the county to state level) can help identify trees by going through the different characteristics of trees we find. 

We talked about the different parts of a leaf so we could all have the same terminology.

We used these leaf printables to talk about characteristics of leaves. Words like lobes, arrangements, margins, and more make a difference in distinguishing trees. It just took a short while to learn and/or reacquaint ourselves with these. Then, we had good vocabulary to talk in more depth about the trees. 

We took our dichotomous keys outside and looked at many of the trees out front. There are signs with the names, yet we purposely did not look at them so we could identify the trees. I thought this was a cool looking stump out front. It was moved here for display--how cool!

We also tried various "tree" foods. They all had something that came from a tree--coconut, pecans, chocolate, berries, fruit, etc. This was a yummy way to connect with trees! I like using all my senses to learn! I especially liked the service berries. I have heard of these, but had not tried them. I'd love to have more! Aaron said they are growing lots of places in Goshen and specifically mentioned near the Goshen Farmer's Markets and in newer developments. Time for foraging!

Later, we did the Birds and Worms activity. I recently used this to talk about camouflage in a program about The Hunger Games.  We used colored toothpicks here. One thing I like about these trainings is seeing how others organize, store, and create their materials for learning. For instance. There are no brown toothpicks in colored toothpick containers, so some were dyed for this activity. 

Eric tallied up the results and we could see which colors of toothpicks were picked up first. We were surprised that the green were easily found in the grass; however, it was a brighter green that stood out against the grass. 

We also looked at MANY products which come from trees--suntan lotion, aspirin, toilet paper, furniture, rayon, the core of baseball bats, pain thinner, utensils, coffee, and more!

Later, we played a sustainability game with several "generations". The first generation could take as many poker chips as they wanted, then the second, and the third. We had a little to go around, but if we're not adding back, there will be little for future generations. We did a similar concept with candies. In small groups, we were given 12 candies to share. At the end of each "round" we could receive half as many candies again, but we had to take at least 1 each round per person. It was easy to see that if we were "greedy" we'd run out of candy soon, but if we took "just enough" we'd be able to have some for many rounds. We did this with the Junior Indiana Master Naturalist day camp a couple of weeks ago. It was so interesting to see different groups. There was a group of all girls, all boys, and one with two boys and two girls. The only ones that really communicated and figured out how to keep harvesting candy was the gender mixed group. How interesting! 

We examined tree cookies in more depth. To avoid cracks if making your own, make sure these are sufficiently seasoned before cutting. We talked about different characteristics, how many rings, how to count, layers we saw, abnormal areas, etc. 

We also went outside and looked at different types of tree damage. There is a printable in the activity guide. I felt like we were on a tree damage scavenger hunt! This larger tree (probably 150 years old) is actually quite healthy!

The dead tree in the background is an ash tree--there are lots of dead ash right now.

Aaron explained issues with the way this is growing. There is little support for this branch in the middle. A strong storm could easily blow it off.

This maple tree below has an issue with the root "girdling" the tree--it's almost as if it is strangling itself!

Overall, it was a great day. I enjoyed getting to know the PLT materials better and having hands-on experiences in the learning process. This is great value and can be used in so many classes!