After a long, cold winter, spring is finally here and the students at École Provencher are taking their learning outdoors.
Growing up in Lac du Bonnet, teacher-librarian Mme Suzanne Simpson has fond memories of her father tapping the sap from local maple trees to make delicious maple syrup. Spotting a mature maple tree at Manoir de la Cathédrale across the street from the school, Mme Suzanne recognized the learning potential of launching a school-wide inquiry project with students and staff to complement the early years science curriculum – Kindergarten (trees); Grade 1 (seasons and the 5 senses); Grade 2 (evaporation); and Grade 3 (plants). Each grade approached the experience from a different focus, but all students were equally engaged in the learning process.
“It is so important for students to use all of their senses while learning and that the natural world is rich in inquiry opportunities,” said Mme Simpson.
A guided inquiry-based learning experience involves exploring, investigating, processing, and creating:
Students shared their prior knowledge of maple syrup, as well as their ideas about how it is produced. Student questions inspired the inquiry process.
Students learned how to identify maple trees on a walk through the École Provencher neighborhood, looking for “maple keys” which they learned is the name given to the distinct seed shape. Students also observed the drilling of the holes and the insertion of the taps into a maple tree. The clear tubing used in the process allowed classes to follow the flow of maple water into the bucket.
Students returned to class to document their learning visually and linguistically by illustrating and applying their new French vocabulary. Students were introduced to new words, specific to maple syrup production, such as “le chalumeau” (the tap inserted into the drilled hole which diverts the sap) and “l’évaporateur” (where the sugar water is boiled down).
Once the sugar water was collected, a camp stove was set up outside on the school grounds, so students and staff could check out the boiling off process and ask questions throughout the day. Students predicted how much maple syrup the sugar water would produce and learned about how important evaporation is to this process. The school collected approximately 24L of sugar water over several days, which in turn resulted in 1/2 cup of maple syrup after 8 hours of boiling!
Fortunately, Monsieur Pascal, the father of a staff member who makes his own maple syrup every year, generously donated a litre to the school for the final taste test. The students gifted their 1/2 cup of maple syrup to the staff at Manoir de la Cathédrale who had graciously granted access to the maple tree for the school’s inquiry project.