Maple Fest, a celebration of all things maple presented by the Lower School science classes, began in 2016 when science teacher Anya Rose counted the more than 15 large maple trees on campus. She thought a project on maples would be a fun way to get kids outside in winter, so she did her research: She called the Friends of the Wissahickon to learn more and also visited her friends’ maple operation in the Poconos. She quickly saw that maple tapping could be a fun way to connect with people about nature and learn the science behind (and inside!) the fascinating maple tree.
“People ask each other, ‘How are your trees this year? Are you getting a lot?’ and it becomes a whole conversation about the weather and the changes year to year," says Ms. Rose, who also notes that conversations about the weather (and the first crop of spring) build relationships.
She brought her maple project idea to SCH. “This is a resource we already have, why not take advantage of it?” she asked. Thus, Maple Fest was born! Students not only maintain the taps, but they also research and present information about their findings at the event. They especially enjoy handing out samples of the sap to their Lower School friends.
“The students are involved in the whole process, from measuring the trees, putting in the taps, and collecting the sap,” says science teacher Marianne Maloy. “They generate questions about the maple trees and process of making syrup, then they investigate these ideas in science class.”
This year, our Lower School science classes (both boys and girls and with the help of Ms. Maloy and Ms. Rose) compared this year’s temperatures with last year’s temperatures and noticed that there were fewer freezing nights this past year. “Not only are we teaching our students about the chemistry of cooking maple syrup but also how the climate’s temperature truly makes an impact in our day-to-day life,” Ms. Maloy said. “Without freezing temperatures, many elements on this Earth can’t perform the way nature intended.”
The maples teach students interesting facts about temperature. Freezing can harm living tissue, which can be helpful for other living things in turn. Freezing kills off insects, like ticks, mosquitos, and other pests. It has also caused years’ of adaptation in trees. Trees in cold climates have not only adapted to survive freezing temperatures but have also come to depend on them. Freezing can cause bubbles to form in the vascular system of trees, but sugar maples have adapted to live in freezing temperatures by concentrating their sap with sugar, which acts as an antifreeze.
“Freezing also helps the sap flow because of differences in pressure,” says Rose. “The above-freezing days mixed with below-freezing nights cause the sap to flow from the taproots up the tree. The more freezing nights, the more the sap will flow. Once photosynthesis starts (which uses leaves), they don't need to obtain as much energy from their roots. And there’s not as much sap because it goes straight to producing their leaves.”
This year, since the region experienced a mild winter, there was very little sap, which gave Lower School students something new to discuss: climate change. Here’s to more sap next year!