Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are trees alive?

"Are trees alive?" 

The inspiration behind Debbie Miller's book Are Trees Alive(2003) was that very question from her child. So often young children associate "living" with movement or with observable growth, neither of which a mature oak tree would display; in this case, her daughter thought that trees could not "breathe" because they did not have noses, and therefore were not living. The parallels between features of trees and features of humans - for example, how roots anchor the tree just like feet anchor us to the ground - make the scientific content relatable to primary-level children in a meaningful way. It's important for children to realize that just because trees don't "breathe" like humans doesn't mean they don't rely on oxygen! From a language arts standpoint, this book would be a great model for the "A is to B as X is to Y" kinds of comparisons. The end notes contain additional information about specific trees featured in the book, including the general geographic location of the species and scientific names.

It's not winter, but keep this other award-winning book about trees in mind for next fall as the leaves begin to drop: Winter Trees by Carole Gerber (2008). We often consider tree identification through leaves and on what trees look like in the summer and fall seasons, full of green leaves or the hues of yellow and red as the days become shorter. This book is unique in its portrayal of the branching structures only observed in the winter when trees are without their leaves (although evergreens are also portrayed). Written in prose with limited text, this read-aloud book contains just enough information to convey the structural differences among oaks, beeches, and other types of trees. The illustrations by Leslie Evans are realistic enough for noting those differences, though not as detailed as those presented in books by Sill (such as About Habitats).


  1. Blog 1 June 15,2013

    I have heard of similar activities to the one I am going to describe below. This could be for a Kindergarten classroom. After discussing and reading about living and nonliving organisms (like the books listed above for example), the students would be able to use their science journals to show their understanding. Before using the journals the class would discuss what characteristics living things had compared to nonliving organisms.
    The first thing the students would do is sort different pictures they had cut out into living and nonliving categories. One page of their journal would be living and the other would be nonliving. The students would then be given different objects (pictures from magazines, from the internet, etc.) to put in their journal. With these objects the students would be able to answer questions. Does it move by itself? Does it grow and change? Does it breathe? Does it need food and water to survive? Does it reproduce (seeds)? (These would also be previously discussed in class discussions and from readings.)
    If it is for a Kindergarten classroom, these questions would already be typed up and the students would determine the answers based on their knowledge gained from the discussion and reading.
    The students would then hopefully have a better understanding of living and nonliving organisms!

  2. My name is Elizabeth LeFevere and I am in Dr. Rearden’s Science Education online course. I absolutely love that these two books were incorporated into this week’s blog. I love incorporating different aspects of weather into lessons and watching the children have their ‘ah ha’ moments. For the second book, Winter Trees by Carole Gerber there is one activity that I think would be perfect to do for second grade students. I have heard of distinguishing between the four seasons by illustrating how each tree looks through that season, which is similar to the activity that I think would be great to do with children to understand the different types of tree branch structures in winter. To begin the activity I would read Winter Trees to introduce the topic that we will be discussing. Having the students use their outdoor surroundings as a classroom is very important. So I would have the students go outside and I would show them three different types of trees and their branch structures that we have been discussing. I will ask the students to pay close attention to how each of the three trees look and how their branches are different or similar to one another. During this time I will take pictures that will help the students remember and be able to draw their own three trees. Once we are done observing the three trees, I will have the students go back inside and draw the three trees. I will have art supplies for students to be able to design their trees however they saw them. They will be asked to illustrate and create each tree on construction paper and make sure to distinctly show the branches. The following day or if time allows, I will ask the students to write what they think the similarities and differences are between the three types of trees that they observed and illustrated in the activity. Concluding this activity I would hope for students to have a better understanding of the different trees that grow, their branch structures, and how winter affects the look of trees.