A slight mist did not prevent Boston Public School educators from venturing out into the Arboretum landscape the past Saturday, January 9th to observe and learn about twigs and trees during winter. Arboretum Arborist Kyle Stephens gave a brief overview of twig morphology at the start of the workshop, sharing his own insights into what he finds fascinating about trees during winter. “The twigs are the brains of the tree, if you will,” he told the group. “They help determine how the tree grows and gets its shape.” After close observations of twig specimens indoors (and a first attempt by teachers at scientific observational drawings), the group gathered outside around a saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) to examine terminal buds and bud scale scars. Other trees soon followed: ginkgo, tulip tree, red maple, katsura, linden, and horse chestnut. At each stop, the wonders of lenticels, lateral buds, branching patterns, and scars were revealed and examined.
Armed with a primer on how to “read” twigs, the teachers returned to the Hunnewell Building Visitor Center to look at twig observational drawings made by third graders. Organizers shared ideas on how to conduct a twig study in the classroom, as well as tips for encouraging better student drawings and vocabulary development. For students, repeated experiences with twig dissection and class discussion is key to learning scientific vocabulary, but only after they have had ample opportunities to use their own descriptive words to label specific features on their own scientific drawings. Twig studies also lend themselves to engaging student-driven experimentation and data collection. Teachers left the Arnold Arboretum armed with stimulating ideas on how to continue using the outdoors for science learning with their students, even during the cold of winter.
The next Exploring the Arboretum for Educators event will be held on February 6, 2016.