Learning Math Through Maple Syrup

Groundwork SomervilleJosia Gertz DeChiara of Groundwork Somerville teaches second grade students about maple trees.

“Everyone say xylem,” Groundwork Somerville Youth Education Coordinator Josia Gertz DeChiara tells a room full of second grade students, holding up a drawing depicting the layers of a maple tree.

The students at the Albert F. Argenziano school were initially stumped by the “z” sound at the beginning of xylem, but quickly remembered that DeChiara had taught them the layer’s name in last week’s class.

Groundwork Somerville is teaching lessons on maple syrup to second graders across the city as part of its 15th Maple Syrup project. Twenty-four of 25 classes signed up for the four-week lessons, with a week dedicated to each of four subject areas: science, math, English and language arts, and history.

Groundwork Somerville is tapping maple trees at Tufts University as part of the project, and will host a community-wide boil down festival on March 10 to turn the sap into syrup. There will be a maple brunch at The Independent on Feb. 19 and the project will wrap up with a maple beer event at Aeronaut Brewing Company on April 22.

Monday was the math installment for the Argenziano second graders, and DeChiara used the opportunity to teach the students about temperatures, graphs, and measurements in addition to facts about maple syrup.

In order for sap to flow, DeChiara explains, temperatures must be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.

DeChiara shows the students a bar graph of high and low temperatures over a few days last winter, explaining the definition of “data” and how the graph works. Two students draw in the high and the low temperatures for Feb. 4, and DeChiara tells the class that they can keep filling out the graph over the next few days to see if the sap is flowing.

Groundwork Somerville has gotten about 45 gallons of sap from the trees at Tufts so far, according to DeChiara—and it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

Groundwork Somerville

DeChiara helps students measure trees on the playground.

Next, DeChiara explains that maple trees of different sizes call for different numbers of taps—a 30-inch tree can take one tap, a 54-inch tree two, and a 72-inch tree three. Trees under 30 inches in diameter have little sap and can be damaged by tapping, according to DeChiara.

Students learn how to measure diameter and then head out to the playground in teams to see how nearby trees measure up. When students struggle to find trees that were big enough to be tapped, DeChiara suggests they start measuring the playground equipment. Students have better luck there, and one even measures himself and discovers that he’s big enough to tap.

“Are we really going to get syrup from the trees?” a student asks DeChiara.

DeChiara confirms, yes. “You are really going to get to taste it.”

The students gasp.

For more information, visit https://www.groundworksomerville.org/programs/food-and-farms/maple-syrup-project/.