School Bulletin: Tapping into natural resources

School Bulletin: Tapping into natural resources

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Ninth graders at Burlington High School take an annual "spring break" from biology class, but they've never off the hook from learning. Instead, each section of biology is shuttled to the school's forest, adjacent to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area, to tap the maple trees and make syrup.

"It's an awesome opportunity for the kids to experience science rather than just learning it," Greg Zeman, a science teacher, says.

Zeman started the maple project just in his classes, but it's now expanded to include every ninth grade student. The science department assigns research projects on everything from the history of tapping maple trees in Southern Wisconsin to the nutritional value of the natural sugars versus the supermarket brands. But the most important lesson might be patience.

"It's got to get below freezing at night and above freezing during the day," Zeman explains. "The temperature change causes a difference in the pressure in the tree."

The pressure changes causes the sap to rise in trees making them ready to tap. Zeman says about 80 gallons of sap is collected and then gets boiled down on a special stove with an evaporating dish. The stove sits in the school's courtyard so the student body can monitor the progress.

Maple experts say it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup, and a temperature of 219 degrees is needed to ensure the syrup is at the right consistency. Zeman says although maple syrup production takes time, it's hard to settle for anything less than the real thing.

"It's mother nature's glucose," Zeman says. "In fact, when I go to restaurants I won't even order pancakes or waffles because the stuff they give you is just not the same."

Zeman says this has turned into a great project for the entire school, and it's made a lasting impression with former students tapping their own trees and making syrup.

"My philosophy over the years of teaching is to try and put some application on what I'm teaching...inside the walls here," Zeman says. "How can you take what we're learning [inside] and apply it to something outside."

Zeman has lead more science adventures, like taking students up to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Another group went to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's inspired Burlington students to pursue environmental studies after high school.

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