The West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science is bringing something sweet to its curriculum

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOODS) – Western Michigan Academy of Environmental Sciences (WMAES) recently invited Maranda to experience maple tapping with students and staff. This annual tradition has been enjoyed by WMAES students for 18 years. Holly Orian, environmental scientist, shared with us some fascinating insights into their maple trees and what makes it such an enjoyable experience for everyone involved:

Each tree is capable of producing approximately one gallon of syrup. The sap is 97% water and 3% sugar and is boiled until it is about 66% sugar and 34% water. We cook the sap over a fire in a large evaporating pan and finish it indoors where it’s easier to strain and bottle. We use our syrup to provide all students with an environmental science pancake treat so they can taste the fruits of their labor.

At WMAES, we harvest sugar maple trees with our K-12 students to continue to show students their connection to the natural world. The students are involved in every step of the process, from tapping the trees, checking the buckets for sap, transporting the buckets of sap to our storage containers and finally consuming the finished product!

Making maple syrup is a demanding activity and the students love to help. We focus our education on how our actions can affect the ability of trees to give us sap to turn into syrup. Each class studies a different aspect of this annual tradition. Younger students learn about the process of tapping trees and that syrup comes from trees, what sap is, how it is stored in trees and how it is used to make leaves. 3rd and 5th graders study the native history of the area and how the sap was used to make mostly sugar, not syrup, and also how local trees can be used to make spiles which are drawn from the trees. Grade 4 learns the size of trees to tap and practices measuring using tape measures and marking the correct size trees to tap. College students discovered simple machines. While in the forest, they explore how the drill bit and a wood-cutting tool are simple machines. The educational possibilities using maples are endless, and each year we find new ways to connect the scientific process to classroom standards.

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