This winter, a 6th-grade science class at Edna Drinkwater School (EDS) in Northport, ME, is diligently investigating the impacts of climate change on their school campus’ trees. Their research question is one that many academics and professional researchers still seek to answer, as many tree species respond very differently to disturbances and differences brought on by the changing climate. This project, part of a citizen science program called WeatherBlur organized by the Maine Math and Science Alliance, allows students to ask their own questions, investigate and design protocols, collect and analyze data, and then share their results with the scientific community.

Maine TREE has been thrilled to partner with EDS to work on this project over the past couple of months. Maine TREE Programs and Outreach Coordinator, Kelly French, has been working with the class and their teacher, Abby Plummer, to help develop a protocol for their important experiment. After reviewing and offering feedback on the class’s research questions and methods, the class invited Kelly to meet virtually for an in-depth discussion. The students plan to use tree borers to collect tree cores from living and dead trees on their campus, using dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) to look at how the trees grew each year. Then, the class will conduct their analysis using a dissecting scope and a scanner to measure tree ring widths on all the cores and compare the growth patterns with local climate data records. In one student’s words, “trees are highly affected by climate change, and since we are looking at the tree rings, we can see if the tree growth has been affected by climate change. The rings will help say if it was warm, cold, wet, or dry.”

“My students and I are so grateful for the tremendous support we’ve had from our school, WeatherBlur, Nikki Becker at NOAA, Acadia National Park, and Kelly at Maine TREE, whose expertise was invaluable in refining our protocol and data analysis methods, and who also helped my students see that their ideas and contributions are not only important, but also on par with what scientists are actually studying about trees and climate change,” said Abby. “These young environmental activists came up with the investigation idea on their own, and worked tirelessly to research the topic and write a protocol. Their passion for protecting the environment is truly admirable.”

When asked about the project and their experiences, the students’ enthusiasm was evident. “Kelly helped a lot because she explained types of trees that we could possibly see out there, tips for what to do with the increment borers, and after our conversation, we got a bit of a boost of confidence. Kids should be able to do WeatherBlur and Maine TREE projects like this because it’s a great thing to do. It makes them know one more thing about their surroundings on our planet and gets them a taste of what’s going on out there in the forest,” said one student. Another student noted, “I love this investigation because I know it’s really important. On the news and on websites is one way to learn about climate change, and I would find myself blowing it off thinking I can’t do anything about it, but it means a lot to me that now, I can help.”

This study encourages the EDS students to think creatively and learn to ask and answer their questions while gaining knowledge about Maine’s forests and the vast opportunities that exist in the world of forestry research. As the EDS 6th graders continue their work on such an advanced project, Maine TREE applauds them and recognizes this as a perfect example of how powerful a tool outdoor-based learning is. Through the Project Learning Tree, Forest Ecosystem Research Network (FERN), and Holt Research Forest programs – Maine TREE is excited to continue supporting educators throughout the state to develop outdoor and forest-based curriculums and teach their students about pertinent topics such as climate change.

“On the news and on websites is one way to learn about climate change, and I would find myself blowing it off thinking I can’t do anything about it, but it means a lot to me that now, I can help.”

— EDS Student

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