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4th grade boys learn the science behind making maple syrup

This winter, SCH’s 4th grade boys embarked on a scientific and culinary adventure to make maple syrup. Bundled up in coats and hats, the boys headed outside their science classroom to tap maple trees on SCH’s campus.
Lower School for Boys’ science teacher Anya Rose assisted them in drilling small holes into four trees, then the boys hammered a spile (a kind of funnel for the sap to drain) into the holes. Tubing was then connected to the spiles and into buckets for the sap to drain.

The boys learned that the ideal weather conditions for maple tree tapping are when temperatures start to drop below 32 degrees at night and stay above 32 in the daytime. This allows for perfect “runny nose” conditions for the sap to drain, as one boy said.

The culmination of this scientific unit was celebrated with a Maple Festival on March 4 and 5, where the boys shared with parents and 2nd and 3rd grade boys everything they had learned about maple syrup, maple trees, and tree rings. One fact they shared was that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. They also talked their process: after collecting the sap, it is frozen, then boiled (around 219 degrees) using SCH’s new evaporator until it becomes concentrated and dark brown, and then the syrup is ready to bottle.

At the festival this March, 4th grade boys’ parents were able to take a look at the evaporator, which billowed with steam as the sap boiled down. Parents and Lower School boys also got a chance to look at one of their tapped maple trees, and in Ms. Rose’s classroom, the boys organized activities to help teach their audience about maple. Parents also got to try french toast with either the pure sap, which tastes like mild sugar water, or syrup that a previous science class had made (since this year’s batch of sap will take a few weeks to boil down completely).

Once the 110 gallons of sap have been reduced to a little under 3 gallons of syrup, the boys will receive some to take home, and some of it may also be auctioned off at the Gathering for the Green Parents’ Association fundraiser on April 27.

For Ms. Rose, one goal of this unit was to give kids “fond memories of being outdoors, and joyful experiences with nature.” She also hopes they learn how important it is to harvest nature sustainably and respectfully.

“Natural places are threatened with drilling, over-farming, over-fishing, deforestation, pesticides, and habitat destruction, so the more I can instill in children a love of nature, the more they will work to protect those places when they grow up,” Ms. Rose said.

The 4th grade boys became so interested in this maple syrup process that they created their own society: The Society of Maple Learning. Without prompting, they made a Google slideshow of some of the facts they learned. On one slide they wrote: “Maple syrup is just something you buy from the grocery store, right? Wrong! Maple syrup is like an art that people have been perfecting for many, many years! Isn’t that cool?” Tomás Hanna, along with help from Ms. Rose, also wrote a song about maple syrup with lyrics like, “Maple sap for you and me / I love to tap those maple trees.” The boys also created videos to help spread knowledge about how to tap trees and make maple syrup.  

“Our mission in the Society Of Maple Learning is to teach teachers and students about maple sap, sugar, and the process, while having fun and making learning fun and hopefully broaden the horizons of kids and adults alike,” 4th-grader Dylan H. said. “My favorite thing I learned with this project was probably how long it takes to boil sap to make it into syrup. I was intrigued by that, and I can now appreciate the hard work it takes to get maple syrup onto your table.”

During this unit, the boys had “maple duty,” which consisted of checking the buckets each day and bringing full ones to the cafeteria. “This took work, which they loved. Boys love lifting heavy things,” Ms. Rose explained. “Kids like being a part of something, and having legitimate, useful jobs that help contribute to a real outcome that they are invested in.”
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