Learning Unit -- Environment
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The Tree 
As a Metaphor for Growing as a Learner


In education, a central symbol connecting our past and future is the "tree". We must all grow as learners -- this is called "lifelong learning" in the vocabulary of Essential Skills.


Why the Tree? Connections Galore!

And which tree? Really, any tree. Could be the maple – the subject of the song, “The Maple Leaf Forever”, written by Scarborough teacher, Alexander Muir, over a century ago. The maple has also been used symbolically as the cultural link for one of Scarborough’s immigrant groups. Or the pine, crafted into so many kitchen floors in Scarborough ’s old farmhouses. Or the cedar, transformed into the rail fences strung across the very fertile fields of glacial clay deposits. Or the birch, carefully sewn into a brilliant invention – the canoe -- by our first Canadians. Or just any tree – they all have incredible stories to tell.

Learning connections so far -- creative writing, immigration, artistic expression, architecture, construction technology, transportation, landform, food production. Indeed, the tree offers an abundance of opportunities for student critical thinking and creativity, some of which may seem to be rather dominant…


Bottom-Up to the Big Issue: Climate Change

Of course, the dominant learning opportunity is, undoubtedly, the profound role of the tree in oxygenating the air we breathe. We could argue that global warming and climate change may be the real target topic -- the topic we could or should focus on in a top-down sort of way. But the tree is much more hands-on, something we all see and touch every day. The tree gives us simple ways to clearly model important aspects of our world. Many of these models can be carefully woven together by educators to deal in practical ways, one view at a time, with the big issue, global warming. Quite literally, the tree is a down-to-earth bottom-up approach to teaching about climate change.

A Renewed Educational Future

Sustainability is now a prominent element in the Ontario curriculum. Trees are our pre-eminent renewable resource. We all need to learn more about them, for example:

  • The life cycle of a tree  

  • Trees as "batteries" -- storage of energy

  • Trees for home heating

  • Looking after and caring for trees

  • How to deal with trees that are becoming a safety hazard

  • Lumber -- a product of trees --  in the context of house construction -- shelter

  • Re-purposing trees as useful manufactured products

  • Strategically planned cutting and woodlot management 

  • Clear-cutting and reforestation

  • Art-Techo -- integrating art into STEM  (science, technology, engineering, math) education by hands-on learning with parts of a tree



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