My STEM Units

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Arbor Day, STEM (STEAM) Style

It has been over 135 years since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day, and his simple idea of setting aside a special day for tree planting is now more important than ever. The Arbor Day Foundation asks for your help in replanting our national forests, so they'll be there, for us, for future generations, and for those with whom we share our planet. (
"Great. Sign me up," you say. But, how does this relate to STEM? What can I do in my classroom to contribute? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Teach your students how to identify trees. Take your students on a walk around your campus and give them an opportunity to use tree identification charts to determine the species. 
  • Plant a tree. By donating to Arbor Day, you will get free trees. Some local agencies also provide trees. Check your local forestry division and nurseries.


  • Use GPS technology to map the locations of the newly-planted trees. Engage students in creating a virtual map of the trees.


  • Provide engineering activities for students. Examples include woodcarving, tree rounds, and wreaths.

  • Write a play or have students act out a play about trees. Download the play devoted to Arbor Day
  • Provide cooking demonstrations that involve tree-inspired foods, such as apples, walnuts, etc.
  • Host a poster, poetry, musical contest. 

  • Organize a "Big Tree" search at your school. Estimate how tall the trees are based on shadows cast. (lesson plan)
  • Count tree rings on a tree stump.
Even more resources: The Arbor Day Foundation has done a GREAT job of providing curriculum materials for teachers. If you are interested in seeing more wonderful ideas, visit their Educational Resources page.

Arbor Day and History

Have you heard of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Project? Simply amazing. 

In commemoration of the (Cival War) sesquicentennial, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground is planting one tree in honor of each of the 620,000 soldiers that perished during the American Civil War.  Each tree is geo-tagged and electronically linked to the Honor Wall page of the soldier it is dedicated to. Through student assistance, JTHG is researching the stories of the fallen using primary source documents. (

Imagine this. Imagine students reading primary source documents to learn about the American Civil War. Imagine students then researching the stories of fallen soldiers and creating webpages devoted to them. Imagine geo-tags placed on freshly-planted trees; 620,000 trees, one for each fallen soldier. Imagine the power of taking a journey through hallowed ground. 

If you are interested in having your students participate in this historic service-learning project, go to the website. There are professional development opportunities for teachers. You can even request a map of the site (spans 4 states). "This is important."

Arbor Day and Shel Silverstein 

I heart Shel Silverstein.  His poems are short enough to keep attention for little readers.  They are silly.  They are whimsical.  I like his short stories too.

Have you read The Giving Tree?  Watch this short animation to get the gist of the story.

Reading this book will no doubt inspire young readers to plant their own giving trees.  In fact, if you plan ahead, you can put seeds into the pulp when making paper (see directions).  The paper can then be planted (along with the seeds).

Students can play along with the book with a Maker Space of wooden blocks to make the house, boat, etc.

Imagine having your students finish the animation with technology, either via tablet apps or desktop programs.

Bring in writing with ideas in this blog devoted to Shel Silverstein.

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