Smiling Scientists at the UC Botanical Garden

When the docent at the UC Botanical Garden asked Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) kindergarteners, “Why is this season called fall?” the students responded, “Because the leaves fall!” while they made sweeping motions with their hands representing falling leaves. The students brought a lot of energy to the garden on the day we joined Benjamin Wilkins-Malloy’s kindergarten class on a Classroom Grant-funded field trip to learn about tree identification.

On a perfect fall day, the field trip started at the majestic Redwood Grove under a canopy of coastal redwoods. Mr. Wilkins-Malloy had been preparing his class for this exciting outing weeks ago, teaching trees as the first science unit because of the accessibility that all of the students have to trees (there’s even a Redwood tree in the BAM yard!). He started with the parts of a tree, how to tell the age of the tree, and the difference between a coniferous and deciduous tree because as he explained, “The students are capable of learning a lot more than adults give them credit for.” It was important to him that the students learn the proper vocabulary because he wanted them to start “thinking like scientists.”

He witnessed a tremendous interest in trees in the weeks leading up to the field trip with students bringing in bags of leaves and seeds from trees in their neighborhoods to share with the class. The class had also read Redwoods by Jason Chin, a children’s non-fiction book about the wonders of coast redwoods and they had begun making an “All About Trees” book of their own with leaf rubbings and an illustrated diagram of a tree.

Learning about trees and now finding themselves in a redwood grove and garden with over 10,000 species of plants allowed students to connect their learning to the real world. The tour prompted questions like “Why do the redwoods grow so tall?” and “Why do leaves change color?”

Following the field trip, Mr. Wilkins-Malloy plans to teach how animals are dependent on trees and trees are dependent animals. This was the first field trip of the year for the students which will be followed by a field trip to Live Oak Park where students will sketch different types of trees.

At the end of the tour, when the students were taking a picture, one student called out, “Everybody say, ‘Scientist!’” So instead of the usual chorus of “cheese”, the students posed for the pictures chiming, “Scientists!”  The futures of these smiling scientists are looking bright!