Fall Trees


An excellent way of starting off the whole project is to take a trip to a local forest. Youth make on-site observations to help gain an overall picture of trees and plants, their habitats, growing conditions, etc. Careful planning for this trip will make it very productive and motivating for the youth.

Youth become acquainted with the trees and plants in their local neighborhood. Since these are readily accessible, they can be the subjects for long-term observations. Youth observe changes during the seasons and thereby gain a sense of how trees survive and grow.

Youth adopt one or several trees in order to narrow their focus. Having been stimulated by several trips to their local neighborhood, they generate questions and then follow through by carrying out systematic observations through the seasons.

Youth compare and contrast changes that happen during the course of the project to small tree seedlings brought indoors. They also compare the environmental conditions that may affect when trees lose their leaves.

Youth crush leaves and other natural materials and soak them in different liquids. They then carry out the technique of chromatography to separate out the pigments for observation.

Youth collect and plant seeds to investigate the experimental question of whether seeds will germinate right away or if they need a span of time to germinate.

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Ideally, the investigation of trees and other plants should be an extended one, occurring over several seasons. There are significant changes to trees and plants during the different seasons. These changes will depend on the variability of climate and part of the country in which you live. Even if the trees in your area do not have dramatic changes in the fall, such as with broad leaf trees, there are still changes over the seasons that are worth observing. Having youth observe these changes over time gives them a more complete picture and understanding of the environmental conditions that affect how trees and plants survive and grow. Youth can start the year working on the fall activities suggested, continue long-term observations of tree and plant experiments while you are working on pond investigations, and then return to a full exploration of trees and plants in the spring. The spring activities build on what youth began in the fall but take advantage of changes that only occur in the spring. If you are located in the more temperate areas of the United States, fall is a time when there are major changes in trees. The dramatic changes in the color of leaves and the fact that trees lose those leaves make fall a great time to get youth started on an extended investigation. Youth can have firsthand experiences with trees and plants by way of field trips. If possible, a trip to a local forest should start off the project. This can then be followed up with multiple trips around the local neighborhood. During these trips youth can start to develop a big picture of the diversity of the plant life as well as the individual differences in trees and plants. Based on these initial explorations, they can generate research questions that they will investigate during the rest of the project. Also, during these trips they can gather leaves and seeds for further investigation indoors. Experimental conditions can be set up to study how leaves decompose and whether seeds germinate indoors or not. Concurrently, some trees’ seedlings can be brought indoors, giving youth a chance to observe changes in these seedlings over the course of the project. The following activities provide suggestions for these studies.