In the Shade of the Science Branches
Trees, of course, are apt subjects for many science activities. A sampling of suggested lessons follows the first two more elaborated activities, which are taken from the work of nature educator, Joseph Cornell (1989, 62 and 1979,27).
We, the Tree
Students will learn tree parts and their functions while joining together to act out the parts.
You will select in the following order:
Heartwood: Two or three tall, strong-looking students who stand back-to-back.
Taroot: A few students who sit at the base of the heartwood, facing outward.
Lateral Roots: Students, preferably with longhair, willing to lie on the ground, feet touching the tree and bodies extending away from the tree.
Sapwood: Group of students, enough to completely encircle the heartwood, who, taking care to not step on any roots, stand and face inward holding hands.
Cambium/Phloem: More students to encircle the sapwood, also standing and facing inward and holding hands. Their hands will turn into leaves.
Bark: All but a few of the remaining students, standing around the tree facing outward.
Enemy Animals and Insects: Have other students take the roles of tree enemy animals and insects.
As you give the students their roles provide the following narration, either in printed or written form. After students review the function of the tree parts they have been assigned, ask them to paraphrase this information and share it with classmates as they act out their respective parts:
The Heartwood is the inner core, the strength of the tree. You hold the trunk and the branches upright so the leaves can get their share of the sun. The heartwood has existed a long time made up of thousands of little tubes that used to carry water up and food down. Now it's dead and the tubes are all clogged with resin and pitch but you are still an important part of the tree. Why is the heartwood so important? It provides strength and support for the tree. (Students will need to consider body language, sounds, and behavior that befit the heartwood.)
The Taproot anchors the tree to the ground. You make it possible for the tree to get water and important minerals from deep in the earth. When storms come, the taproot keeps the tree from being blown over by high winds. Not all tress (including redwoods) have a taproot, but this one does. (As with the heartwood, this group of students will need to consider body language, sounds, and behavior that suggest their tree role.)
Lateral Roots are underground, growing outward all around the tree like the branches do above the ground. There are many hundreds of you lateral roots. You help keep the tree standing. At your tips are tine root hairs. (Now spread the hairs of one or more of the students/ roots out around their heads.) Trees have thousands of miles of roots hairs that cover every square inch of soil into which they grow. When your root hairs sense that there is water nearby your cells grow toward it and suck it up. These cells at the tips of your root hairs are as tough as football helmets. Now let’s have the taproot and lateral roots all practice slurping up water. When I say, “Let’s slurp” you all make a loud slurping noise. Okay, let’s hear you slurp!
Sapwood carries water up to the branches and leaves. You draw water up from the roots and lift it to the tree’s highest branches. You are the most efficient pump in the world, with no moving parts. You can lift hundreds of gallons of water a day and you do this at speeds of over 100 miles an hour! After the roots slurp the water from the ground, your job is to bring the water up the tree. When I say, “Bring the water up,” you lift your arms up into the air and shout, “Wheee!” Okay, let’s practice. First roots, you slurp (they make the appropriate noises) and (immediately follow with the command to the sapwood) Sapwood, bring the water up! Wheee!
Cambium and Phloem surround the sapwood. The cambium layer, closest to the sapwood, is the growing part of the tree. While the tree’s roots and branches are growing, the tree is also adding a new cambium layer outward from the trunk. Toward the outside of the tree is the phloem. This part carries food manufactured by the leaves and distributes it to the rest of the tree. Let’s turn our hands into leaves. (They stretch arms upward and outward so they intersect each other’s arms at wrists and forearms, leaving their hands to flutter like leaves.) When I say, “Let’s make food!” raise your arms and flutter your leaves and absorb the energy from the sun and make food. When I say, “Bring the food down” you go, “Whooo!” (Demonstrate that this sound is a long descending sound at the same time as you bend at the knees and drop your arms and body toward the ground.) Let’s practice.
The Bark protects the tree. You are the bark. What kinds of dangers do you protect from the tree? (Suggest fire, insects, animals, extreme temperature changes, and sometimes people.) Protect the tree like a football blocker. Raise your arms with both elbows out and both fists close to your chest.
Go through all the sounds and motions with all the parts, in this order: Let’s slurp!... Let’s make food! … Bring the water up! … Bring the food down! (Note that the cambium/phloem ring makes food before the sapwood brings the water up.)
At this point the students playing animals and insects try to break through the bark to get to the inside part of the tree and a student plays a person trying to carve his/her name in the tree. As they try to penetrate the bark's protective layer, the bark actors should try to fend them off.
While this is happening, shout the commands for all the other parts of the tree to do their jobs in sequence: "Heartwood, stand tall and strong! Get tough, Bark! Roots, let's slurp! Leaves, let's make food! Sapwood, bring the water up! Phloem, bring the food down!" After the first round, just shout the commands without giving the names of the tree parts. When you finish, the students should give themselves a big hand for being such a wonderful tree.