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Henderson teacher uses tree friends for frameworks

December 29, 2010

Students in Niki Mulrooney’s fifth grade class at Henderson Intermediate are making friends — with trees.
Mulrooney started the tree friend project as a way to teach her students important frameworks across several subjects. Being new to the fifth grade (she used to teach middle school), Mulrooney relied on input from fellow teachers about fun classroom activities for her students.
“[Debbie] Vanderford always said the best way to teach language arts is through their own writing and to make it as real as possible,” Mulrooney said. “By having them pick a tree friend, they think it’s really special.”
Students scoured campus to find the tree that stood out to them, and that tree became their tree friend.
Mulrooney incorporated language arts into the tree friend assignment by having students observe their tree and write descriptive essays about them. Students learned about figurative and descriptive language to describe their tree.
Each week, the students fill out a workbook on their tree, and work on a new type of figurative language like metaphors, similes and hyperboles.
She then realized she could incorporate science into the project when talking about the environment, weather and conservation.
“The science part is to see how weather and environmental changes change their tree,” Mulrooney said. “Like right now, some trees are losing their leaves, and some aren’t.”
The students began looking into the scientific process by taking what they already know about weather and trees and applying it to how they think those factors will affect their tree.
“They’re predicting outcomes based on what they’ve seen about their tree versus what they see with the change of the seasons. Then every nine weeks we’ll look back at climate, and they will make connections with that as well,” she explained.
Mulrooney’s students even got a lesson in debate when the class put an artificial tree in the classroom.
“They started becoming concerned about people cutting down trees, which brought us to conservation, which is another framework,” she explained.
Students formed their own ideas about real trees versus artificial trees, and the advantages and disadvantages for both.
“They are looking at both sides of the argument,” Mulrooney said. “Artificial is plastic, which is using man-made resources, versus real trees using natural resources.”
Mulrooney was even able to add a persuasive writing lesson into her tree friend lesson when her class became very passionate about their artificial or real tree discussions. She made sure to have students research their side of the argument and learn how to cite their sources.
“I love hearing them have these big ideas about the environment that all stemmed from their tree friends,” Mulrooney said. “They don’t fully understand it yet, but they will later in life, and they’ll look back and remember this project.”
Mulrooney would like to thank her fellow teachers Debbie Vanderford and Summer Buntin for their help making the tree friend project, as well as Principal Timothy Bourne for being so supportive, she said.

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