Fall is a magical time of the year and features nature at a time of change. The sight of colourful leaves falling to the ground, the sound of each crackling footstep, the chill of an autumn breeze and the smells and taste of the fall harvest tantalize every sense. For iSTEAM, it was the perfect time to introduce the students at Antler River Elementary School to the stories that surround this time of year and to teach them the science and cultural stories of why some of the changes occur. Every year we get to witness the beautiful process of green leafy trees changing into a beautiful display of reds, oranges and yellow leaves that then fall to the ground, leaving bare branches, awaiting spring renewal. Have you ever wondered why does this process occur? From a science perspective, in the fall, the tree gathers back some of its energy for storing in its branches and stops or limits producing the green colour in the leaves. The yellow and orange colours are always there hidden beneath but it is the substance called chlorophyll that produces the green colour during the rest of the year so that the tree can store energy from the sun. But what about those vibrant red leaves we see? Well the truth is that no one fully knows why leaves turn red in colour. The red is made in the leaf while the green is disappearing and it is thought that it may act like sunscreen and help the leaf while it stores the energy in the branch, or it may be that when the red leaf falls to the ground it feeds the soil and protects the tree for spring. The students also learned how to tie the changing leaves process to their own culture by discussing the story of the Great Bear which explains traditionally why the leaves change colour. On our Canadian flag we celebrate the central icon of the leaf which is from a maple tree. Students were asked to find a leaf and practice etching by placing it under a piece of paper and rubbing a crayon overtop. Like magic, this reveals all the veins in the leaf which are so important in the transfer of water to the entire tree. To finish off their artwork leaf design, the students traced the edges with a black magic marker and then could cut it out to add to their school tree. While collecting leaves to create this piece, students were also encouraged to gather enough colourful leaves to tear and use like a paint palette. They then glued the leaves to an outline of the Great Bear, further reinforcing the story they had discussed, to create a new work of art and were encouraged to design a background. The students were provided with maple tree facts that were both scientific and culturally based and were asked to bring them back to school to share and gather all the facts together. Some of these facts focused on learning the types of trees that are found locally such as the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and the importance and how to of cultivating maple sap for uses in food and medicine based on traditional teachings.
The fall season also brings with it the smells and tastes of harvest time. Since Halloween was fast approaching, and with some help from Ferguson Farms, students were provided with pumpkins to carve and learned about how in Indigenous cultures the focus is to use every part of an object because it is considered a living thing. The pumpkin seeds in this case can be saved and used for planting or roasting so students were encouraged to do so. They could then take their pumpkin jack-o-lantern’s home to display. This was the perfect way to celebrate and learn about the “Colour-fall” season of Autumn.