CSTA Classroom Science

Our Beloved Tree Garden

By Lizette Ashcraft

“He who plants a tree plants a hope,” Lucy Larcom

This year, in support by a grant from the Roots and Shoots Foundation by Jane Goodall, I was able to have three trees planted at my school. The application for the Roots and Shoots Foundation was easy to complete and they sent the funds quickly. I was able to buy the trees and a new set of books. Credit should also be given to my school’s leadership. The trees were planted because of a supportive principal, Rudy Gonzalez, who worked his magic to get the trees in the ground. I am proud to say they are the first California native trees on our campus.

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The Tree of Life Nursery was very helpful and knowledgeable about which trees would be most beneficial to our school. It was best to avoid any trees that attract pollinators, such as bees to ensure the safety of the students. We also had to avoid a California Oak because it can not handle the excess water from the playground sprinklers. I decided on the beautiful white alder. The trees grow very fast and have bacteria in their roots that help them grow in poor soil, making them an important contributor for other plant species. 

The Strength of Children
The ground crew had to decide the best location for high exposure to sunlight, which happened to be far away from the water source. This meant that water buckets had to be carried quite a distance to the trees. The first attempt was laborious. However, the children persevered; they seem to instinctively understand the importance of taking care of the trees. After I taught the children how to do a bucket brigade,which they love, they now asked me if we can do a bucket brigade almost every day. (We decided Tuesday will be our “bucket brigade day.”) They like to be the first in line to pour the water. They know to get close to the roots and not pour too much at once or the water goes on the grass instead of the tree. There are several children who choose to water the trees instead of playing p.e. I must give credit to TreePeople.org for teaching me proper tree care. They offer many great trainings on tree care and planting throughout the county of Los Angeles. 

Connections to NGSS 
The implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are like a puzzle. I add a piece at a time to each section until the puzzle is complete. I began with the cross cutting concepts of structure and function. We studied the structure and function of seeds (seed coat, cotyledon, and seed dispersal, etc.) and roots and their hair like structures. The next puzzle piece was the disciplinary core ideas of interdependent relationships in ecosystems with insects and trees as their shelter. I will also be adding a piece to the puzzle with mathematics. The children will measure the growth of the trees by the trunk and height. I will add environmental literacy to our project by having the children draw the direction of the excess water flow in our playground. The children will connect the water flow to the ocean. There are many other pieces to the puzzle I would like to add. Little by little we are making progress towards how to be a scientist and make the NGSS puzzle complete. 

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The Results 
Since watering and planting the trees, the children have written several pieces about our tree garden! They wrote about how rotting trees help the ecosystem, instructions on how to do a bucket brigade, the science on how trees help each other and their first multi-paragraph piece about how to build a treehouse. 

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The social/emotional benefits are plentiful as well. They have been cooperating with each other; feeling empowered knowing how to properly water the trees, and participating in the bucket brigade! The children are showing their sensitivity to the environment also. When it started to rain heavily, they were worried that it would be too much water for the trees. It was quite endearing. They learned that newly planted trees love to soak up all those raindrops. The learning seems to happen very easily.  For instance, they saw ants covering the trees, and were happy to know that the trees offered shelter to the ants, and that the ants were not hurting the trees in any way. 

The Legacy 
My favorite aspect about our tree garden is endurance. The learning endures, the children’s memories of the trees will endure, and their love and appreciation for nature will endure. They were so happy when I told them how big the trees will be when they graduate from high school. The trees will be there and it is because the children cared about them. After I retire, the trees will still be there to touch the future. 

Lizette Ashcraft is a 2nd Grade Teacher at Morrison Elementary School in Norwalk, California lashcraft@nlmusd.org 



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