Maple syrup is no longer just a staple in the kitchen; classrooms across New Hampshire are making the sweet stuff an essential part of the curriculum, too.
“Maple production is full of core academic concepts such as biology, chemistry, math, history, economics and nutrition,” explained Debbi Cox, state coordinator for New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom, a nonprofit organization working to increase agricultural literacy among schoolchildren.
Since students are familiar with maple syrup — either because they slather it on their pancakes or have a family member who taps trees — incorporating it into the classroom offered a fun way to teach students new materials.
NHAIC introduced Tapping into Maple Tradition at the start of the 2017 sugaring season. The lessons are aimed at children from kindergarten through high school and range from role-playing the sugar making process and understanding photosynthesis to using science to explore different temperatures involved in sugaring and the chemistry involved in removing water to crystalize syrup and make rock candy.
“Students are able to understand how the educational concepts fit into real-world situations, which strengthens the learning process,” Cox said.
NHAIC spent a year developing the curriculum, which has three components: A video showing how maple production relates to the learning concepts; a poster for classroom display; and a series of lessons and activities for different grade levels. To date, the curriculum includes materials for elementary language arts, math and history, middle school chemistry and high school economics and engineering.
The goal, according to Cox, is to add more lessons, including sections on nutrition and climate change.
Producers were involved in the creation of the curriculum, ensuring that the details were accurate. Nick Kosko of Meadow View Sugarhouse wrote the high school engineering curriculum, which requires students to calculate flow and read contour maps.
“Relating the information to the real world is so valuable for these kids,” Kosko said. “It’s like a light bulb goes off and they think, ‘OK, now I get why I need to know flow dynamics.’”
Field trips are an essential part of the learning experience — and a boon for producers.
In the past, Kosko hosted two to three school groups per season. Since Tapping into Tradition was launched earlier this year, he has already hosted five school groups and has more field trips on the books. In addition to kindergarten and first grade classes, the curriculum is bringing high school students to the farm.
“If you’re going to tell the kids that it’s a real world application but you never take them to see it in action, it’s not going to tie the lesson together,” Kosko said. “The field trips are really important.”
The new curriculum inspired the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association to take hands-on learning to the next level.
Every year, the association gives the Felker Award to an up-and-coming sugar maker. In 2017, to coincide with Tapping Into Tradition, the Association added a school division.
As part of the competition, a class agrees to produce one quart of maple syrup by the April 16, 2017. Students are assigned a mentor from the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association who approves their production plan and ensures that they follow the rules, which state that all maple sap must be produced in New Hampshire.
The winner will be decided by a taste test and the winning class will receive a $2,000 prize.
Fifteen classrooms are signed up for the competition. Cox is thrilled with the entrants, which include a fourth grade class that boiled their sap on a turkey fryer; students from an elementary school with an onsite sugar house; and a high school with two classes competing against each other.
“This has been a fantastic incentive for schools to incorporate maple education,” Cox said. “We are so excited to have the Tapping into Maple Tradition resources to focus on a commodity common in New Hampshire [and] we will continue to work with teachers showing them how critical it is for every classroom to integrate agricultural education.”