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Tree rings + ipads = history teaching tools

6:54 PM, Feb 26, 2013   |    comments
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Text books can be tool for learning but book learning can be a little dull.

One East Tennessee teacher has come up with an interesting lesson while making something good out of what was a bad situation.

Almost two years ago, a big tree fell on a church in Knoxville. Members saw a hole in their building but an elementary school teacher saw an opportunity.

"As the tree was lying on the ground I started to count the rings and I though there's probably over 150 rings on here. So as the workers were working I asked if they would bring me a piece over," Talbott Elementary School teacher Phillip Lewis said.

That piece is now the centerpiece of a lesson on Geography, History, Math, and more in Phillip Lewis' 5th grade class at Talbott Elementary School in Jefferson County.

"How can we tell if trees are old?" he asked his class. "By their rings," they responded.

Students use the natural timeline and modern technology to track history.

"You can tell people about it that you have experienced what a tree looks like from the inside," 5th grade student Kaitlyn Williams said.

They research dates on ipads and find out where events happened on google earth, a virtual globe using the fundamentals of geography.

"The Google Earth allows students to step out of the classroom and be able to see the world from above which is very important when you want to learn about the spacial aspects of the earth and spacial critical thinking," Kurt Butefish.

Kurt Butefish with theTennessee Geographic Alliance said lessons like that spark an interest in geography and careers in geography.

"Right now geography and geospacial technology is the third fastest growing segment of the economy in job creation," Butefish said.

The kids are creating a visual representation of history including the moon landing happened in 1969, the Chicago fire and the end of the Civil War.

The tree itself offers even more opportunities to learn.

"Today we used it to do perimeter and diameter, finding that in the tree. We use it for all kinds of stuff, looking for weather patterns in the tree," Phillip Lewis said.

The students connected something they saw in the tree to a specific weather event.

"Something that you guys found is the Blizzard of '93 where you can see the tree was damaged a little bit," he said to his students.

Phillip Lewis hopes the hands on project will stick with the students.

"I think they'll remember doing this project when they get into high school. And if they're ever back in the woods or see a tree fall they might say I can tell what the date of this tree is," he said.

Kurt Butefish said, "This is very exciting to see."

"When you get older and you see trees you can figure out how old they are and if you're a teacher you can maybe do that for your class," 5th grade student Rebekah Garber said.

He's helping history come alive with what remains of a fallen tree.

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