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Maple Syrup Production

Keywords: sugaring, maple tree, sap, natural resources, maple syrup; Lesson Plan Grade Level: can be adapted for kindergarten through third grade; Total Time Required: 40-60 minutes, depending on grade level; Setting: classroom or outdoors

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will explore the steps of maple sugar production.

  • Students will understand the evaporation process.

  • Students will appreciate the labor and effort involved from tree to the final product.

Materials Needed

Optional Supplies

  • spile for tapping trees

  • clean bucket

  • hand operated drill with drill bit aprox 6 7/16 inches in diameter

  • access to sugar maple trees in the early spring time

State Standards Addressed: E & E Standards: Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources (4.2); Agriculture and Society (4.4); Humans and the Environment (4.8)

Subjects: history, science, math

Topics: tree identification, evaporation, conservation, fractions

Introduction

  1. Play a taste test game. Provide each student with samples of artificial maple syrup and one sample of real maple syrup. Do not identify the real one. Give each sample a number. Ask the students to taste each sample and then vote for the number they think is the real maple syrup. After everyone has voted see how many students were able to identify the real syrup.

  2. Discuss ways students enjoy eating maple syrup. Explain that what is sold as, "maple flavored syrup" is not true maple syrup. True maple syrup comes from the maple tree. It takes years for the tree to grow, plus days of hard work, in cold and muddy weather, to gather and produce the syrup.

Following the Sap from Tree to Table

  1. Use the From the Woods: Maple Syrup, a Taste of Nature publication for this section of the lesson. Older students should take turns reading orally. You will need to read aloud and adapt the information for younger students. This publication will lay a good foundation for the remaining activities in the lesson. Read and discuss the sections "Maple Sugaring Basics," "The Magic Tree," and "Making the Syrup."Students should understand that sap is only 1/50 sugar and the rest is water.

Making Our Own Syrup and Sugar

  1. If you have access to sugar maples in the spring you can do this activity. If you do not have access, skip to the "No Trees?" section.

  2. Start this project by identifying your sugar maple trees. This is best done while the trees still have their leaves in the summer or fall. Use the diagram in the publication to assist you and your students. If your trees do not currently have leaves, they can still be identified, but you will need to get help from a forester. Your county extension office can help you locate one.

  3. The early spring, when the night temperatures go below 32 degrees F and the day temperatures go above 32 degrees F, is the time to start gathering sap.

  4. Using the drill, make a hole in the tree at waist height. Drill only 1.5 inches into the tree.

  5. Insert spile and hammer until it is secure.

  6. Place bucket under spile. You will see the sap begin to drip. It looks just like water and it is fun for the students to taste it.

  7. Check your bucket every day and empty it.

  8. The sap should be kept cold or refrigerated until you can boil it. It will turn cloudy and spoil if it gets too warm.

  9. When you are finished with this activity, remove the spiles.

  10. Do not attempt to fill or cover the tap hole, as this could damage the tree. The tree will heal itself if left alone.

No Trees?

  1. Use the tree identification pictures in the publication to observe what the tree would look like.

  2. Discuss the pictures of the tapping and gathering process.

  3. You can make your own "sap" to be used for the rest of the lesson.

  4. Start with the amount of real syrup you want to make and then add water to it. You will need to create a ratio of 40 parts water to 1 part syrup. This will look and taste just like real sap.

Making Syrup and Sugar

  1. Boil the sap until most of the water is evaporated and the sap starts turning a light amber color.

  2. As the sugar content gets higher, the sap will bubble and foam.

  3. Keep stirring.

  4. Maple producers use a hydrometer to determine when the syrup is finished. Since you most likely do not have one, cook the syrup until it will coat the spoon and that should be close enough.

  5. Cool some of the syrup and the students can sample and enjoy it.

  6. Continue boiling until the syrup turns to small grains in the bottom of the pot. This is maple sugar.

Evaluation

While the students are enjoying their maple treats, ask them to describe the steps that went into making the syrup. Younger students can draw and number pictures of the process. Older students can write a diary describing the journey of a bucket of sap from tree to table.

References

Davenport, Anni, Roy Adams, and Sanford Smith (2000). From the Woods: Maple Syrup, a Taste of Nature. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

Author

Heather Coder, Pennsylvania Homeschool