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Fieldwork and Experts: The Branching Out Expedition at King Middle School

Seventh-grade students in David Mann’s science class at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, engage in fieldwork and learn real-world skills as citizen-scientists. Students work with a city arborist, contribute to a database on trees, and create proposals for introducing new trees to various neighborhoods throughout the city.


- Fieldwork and working with experts are critical to the success of an expedition. They provide a critical learning experience that you absolutely cannot get within a classroom or out of a textbook.

- Really nice job.

- [David] Branching Out is a seventh grade science expedition. The students had a chance to work with the the city arborist, contribute to a database on trees in an urban community and the final product involved was that every kid created a tree proposal for a neighborhood that was lacking greenery. And as a result, trees were planted in that community. So this is a map of all of the quadrants that I’ve broken down for us for our-- We think abut field work and experts as soon as we start planning an expedition. They know 18 trees all ready, or species of trees, and that pretty much covers this whole area-- When we have have all our ideas on the table if we’re coming up with a new expedition. We ask ourselves what is the professional role in this situation. And can the the students have the opportunity to take on the professional role? If we don’t feel that we can create these opportunities for students, then that’s an expedition that we’re just not going to pursue.

- This is Ginkgo, Dave is that correct?

- I’d like to introduce Mr. Jeff Tarling, our city arborist.

- One of the best parts of this expedition was the expert involved. Jeff Tarling, he’s a city arborist.

- And up until this year we knew we had seven or 8,000 records of trees.

- [David] He came to our school with a genuine need to complete the database of trees for an urban community here in Portland.

- All the things in blue and all the streets in red we have no idea of how many trees we had.

- Another strong aspect of this expedition were the tools that the students were able to use. The students had iPads equipped with an app, Esri, which actually allowed students to put data points on aerial maps.

- Do you think there is utilities?

- And then they could put attributes to those points. The species of the trees, the conditions of the tree, the maintenance needs of the tree, which was really helpful to to the city arborist. This program was actually the same program, they were doing the same exact work that the U.S. Forest Service was doing on the other side of the city. Can you raise your hand and tell me what color are water lines? We work really hard to prepare our students for success. We incorporated numerous fieldwork experiences that we prepare students for the final work. We had students take part in a community survey on the benefits of urban trees.

- Thank you.

- [David] Students had to go out and accurately identify tree species and their distinguishing characteristics.

- We learned two different types of trees. A Nora Maple and a Pin Oak.

- [David] In order to operate the Esri app on the iPads we had to go out and perform a whole series of fieldwork and training on how to enter all that data correctly. And then the students took part in a tree inventory using the Esri software on the iPads which was directly linked to the city’s GIS system.

- Condition?

- It’s fair. It needs trimming. Because look at all those dead branches.

- About 13 inches. Yeah. We’re taking data on the trees and we’re walking, we planned the roots that we are going to take measures on the tree.

- Wait here it is. The tree that we’re looking at today is a Japanese Pagoda. The Japanese Pagoda is kinda like a Honey Locust but the difference is it has vidilifers.

- And flaky bark.

- Yep.

- So the ultimate fieldwork experience for this expedition was when students went into this one particular neighborhood that was lacking trees. And they had to find locations where they could write their tree proposal.

- Six feet from hydrant. Six feet from driveway. Well today we’re doing fieldwork. And we went around in neighborhoods in Portland to see where we would like what kind of visualize and see where we would actually put trees. For large trees we have Yellow Wood, Green Ash, English Oak, Maple, Pin Oak. We kind of like had to visualize and see what kind of tree we’re gonna put there. If it’s to make shade, if it was to make the place look better.

- Could be a Japanese Alcova because it has upright.

- So they had to pull together everything they had learned about trees and how they grow and their size and their requirements before they could actually make a determination of what tree could benefit this particular location for their proposals.

- This isn’t big enough. So I was thinkin’ then maybe a Turkish Filbert or Japanese Tree Lilac.

- When you do great work and you work with great experts in the field, it provides a wonderful opportunity for an audience for students to show their final product.

- We had to go out to a certain spot. My spot.

- [David] At our culminating event, we had the city arborist there, we had people from the city and the community.

- Different colors and different types of trees all over there.

- Those are different types.

- Yeah. And this is the tree size, like the largest square and the largest one we found was a Pin Oak.

- Pin Oak?

- [David] Every student was explaining their proposals in depth and detail. We had students explaining applications on the iPads and how to document data. We had students explaining all characteristics the of trees and how to identify trees properly. We had students explaining the maps that were created from the inventory, in particular the maintenance needs of the trees which is a real benefit to the people in the city.

- Getting the students involved and having the community know more about the resource will help better manage it in the future.

- At the heart of this expedition, I wanted students to walk away with being stewerts of this tree filled community. You could teach whatever you want and how ever you want in a classroom. But until you get the students out doing real meaningful fieldwork, taking on real professional roles, you’re not going to develop that relationship with your environment that you can act on. And that’s why fieldwork is so critical to an expedition.

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EL Education

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