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Tree-mendous Science

by Nicole Murphy

I was out for a walk the other day and as I was walking I noticed some tree branches lying on the sidewalk.  Well this is Newfoundland and our weather is unpredictable at best.  We may have all four seasons in one day.  When I ask my students to look out the window and it could be snowing, and ten minutes later the sun may be splitting the rocks.

I guess the branches had cracked off of a tree last week during the wind storm we had.  I bent down to get a closer look and I noticed that there were still green leaf buds on the branches. So I picked them up.  I was very pleased with myself for finding this surprise treasure.  I spent the last ten minutes of my walk swinging my two branches in my hands as I walked down a very busy street.  People driving by must have thought I was a bit nuts but I think it is a good quality in a science teacher to be just a little bit crazy.  Sometimes an opportunity for learning presents itself when we least expect it.  It is these teachable moments upon which I thrive. I must admit I had big plans for these two tree branches.

The next morning I excitedly carried them in to school.  I got some strange looks, but people there know me and are used to seeing me do these types of things.  I ran all over school looking for a bucket large enough to put them in.  I found one, filled it with water and I put my branches in only to discover that my bucket was leaking.  So I began my bucket search again, finally finding one without leaks.  Since I have been teaching about Spring I was excited to show my students my treasure.  Children are wonderful to be around, their energy and curiosity is infectious and the scientific method of inquiry is founded in both of these characteristics so it is natural for students to be inquisitive and interested. I showed them my two branches and told them how I happened to acquire them.  They made sure that I did not harm the tree I assured them I never.  We have been talking about environmental stewardship, recycling, conservation and natural resources lately and they are very interested in these areas.  I told them that if I put the branches in water that their leaves would grow and if the tree was a flowering tree then we would get to enjoy its flowers as well.  A couple of years ago I attended a workshop given by the Botanical Gardens called “A Botanical Boot Camp” and I learned many wonderful things and this was one of them.

We then proceeded to make a hypothesis about the length of time it would take for the leaves to grow and we made guesses about the type of tree it would be.  I told them that we would be able to tell only once the leaves came out.  We recorded the materials we would need.  We examined our tree with magnifying glasses. My students always love an opportunity to use them.  We wrote up a procedure and we are observing our branches daily to note any progress.  The children really want to know what type of tree the branches are from.  I told them we can research the leaves by using a locally published gardening book for Newfoundland trees to find out what kind of a tree we have.   It is amazing to me that so much learning can occur from something as simple as noticing a branch on the side of the road.  I had not planned to do any of this and now it is a major part of my teaching spanning numerous subject areas.  We are graphing the type of tree we think it is, we are journaling any changes, and I have plans to write tree-mendous poetry, the possibilities are endless.  The scientific inquiry process is alive and well in my grade one classroom and I give thanks daily for the curiosity and excitement of my students, their willingness to be engaged, their desire for a hands-on approach and the enthusiastic smiling faces which greet me each morning.  Teachable moments happen when we least expect them and I treasure them and the opportunities they provide for me to grow professionally and personally.


My name is Nicole Murphy and I am a Grade One teacher at Mary Queen of the World School in Mount Pearl, NL.  I have been teaching for twelve years. In my classroom I have: raised salmon, grown mealworms, planted seeds, made castles, gone on nature walks, and vermi-composted!!  I love teaching children about their world around them and exposing them to new and wonderful ideas. 


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