Maple Syrup: A Tasty Unit Study
- Monday, February 09, 2009
Read Native American legends about how it was discovered that sap from maple trees could be made into syrup, such as the Iroquois legend of Chief Woksis or the story of Nanabush.
Have students research the syrup harvesting process from its early days of collection in clay and bark vessels to modern-day methods that incorporate reverse osmosis reduction, steam- and oil-powered evaporation, and vacuum systems.
Have students research why abolitionist friends of Thomas Jefferson hoped maple sugar might help end the slave trade. (See The Maple Sugaring Story: A Guide for Teaching and Learning the Maple Industry, 1990).
Use blank maps of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada to have students show the limited climate suitable for growing syrup-producing trees.
Discuss the concepts of exporting and importing, and have students research and graph which provinces and states are the leading producers of maple syrup.
Learn about the Quebec culture and its “sugaring off” traditions.
Introduce or reinforce the concepts of percentages and ratio. Have students graph what percent of sap is actually sugar. Even younger children can draw forty “pails” of sap to visualize how they are equal to only one gallon of maple syrup.
Help students apply their knowledge of temperature to syrup production. Have them research at what temperature sap becomes syrup and why this can change from one day to the next.
Enjoy reading Newbery Award-winning Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen.
Read and discuss the maple syrup process as depicted in children’s literature, using excerpts from classic works such as Little House in the Big Woods (pp. 117–130), Newbery Award winner Calico Bush (pp. 152–155), and The Birchbark House (pp. 194–208). Have older students compare and contrast the sap collection and syrup making process at the three different periods of American history and locations with which they correspond (Maine, 1743; Wisconsin, 1870s; an island in Lake Superior, 1847 [inhabited by the Ojibwa tribe near Minnesota]).
Have students investigate the health benefits of maple syrup (which not only has fewer calories by volume than either sugar or honey, but is a source of several minerals and even amino acids and proteins).
Experiment with new recipes that use maple syrup as the sweetener. Some worth finding include maple caramel corn, maple marinated chicken wings, and maple baked beans. For additional recipes, see The Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haednon, 2001.
Spelling and Vocabulary
Spelling and vocabulary words range from words for the second-grader (roots, axe, maple, spile) to upper elementary (syrup, sugar, evaporator, production) to even older students (mechanism, hydrometer, commercial, osmosis).
In comic-strip fashion, have students illustrate the sequence of events in the syrup making process.
If you live in a sugar-producing region and have access to maple trees, consider applying newfound knowledge to an attempt at tapping and boiling your own syrup. Another option is to contact area nature centers. Many offer seasonal exhibits you can observe as a family or with a group of other homeschoolers. Be sure to celebrate the harvest with a meal together!
Books and Resources
Read-Alouds or Readings for Older Students
Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson (Newbery Award winner)
A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos (pp. 53–54)
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (pp. 194–208)
Calico Bush by Rachel Field (pp. 152–155)
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (pp. 117–130)
Picture Storybooks for Young Students
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