Going beyond the traditional textbook approach to learning, one Crestwood  Secondary School educator is teaching his students in an engaging way that takes  theory to practice outdoors — one bucket of tapped sap at a time. 

Jim Mulder, who has taught at the Sherbrooke Street high school for 28 years,  is running a new program for his Grade 9 science class: harvesting sap and  turning it into maple syrup. 

Mulder, who teaches science through Grades 9 to 12, launched the project last  month after getting the green light from the school’s principal, David Boone,  who supported the veteran teacher’s outside-the-box idea. Mulder credits him  with getting the initiative off the ground. 

Throughout each week, Mulder brings his class — a group of a dozen students —  to the woods beside the school. The area is located on farmland owned by a local  family — including members who Mulder taught years ago — who approved the  educator’s project, allowing him to use the land. 

Mulder grew up on a farm in Owen Sound, where he often harvested maple  syrup.

“I was looking for something that would challenge the kids and would connect  with everyone’s lives,” he said, adding that the project allowed him to revisit  his passion while exposing his students to the process of harvesting sap before  eventually turning it into fresh maple syrup. 

With buckets in hand, Mulder’s students learned how to identify maple trees  and each picked their own tree. From there, using a variety of tools, he began  demonstrating how to drill holes into trees and extract sap. 

Once the sap is collected, Mulder has his students bring the haul back to the  school grounds, where it’s brought to a garage. 

Using a propane boiler, the sap is boiled down to its sugar content. 

“The sap content is only about two-and-a-half per cent sugar when it’s out of  the tree and then there’s about a 40:1 ratio of sap to syrup. So if you want one  litre of syrup you have to boil off 40 litres of water,” Mulder explained. 

“It’s labour intensive but it’s fun.” 

Mulder does most of the boiling for safety reasons as the students watch and  learn the process. 

While Mulder’s project isn’t specifically part of the curriculum, the class  gives him the freedom to interpret it and explore different ways of teaching  outside of a classroom setting. 

“I’m not tied to the curriculum as the regular classroom is but it falls  under science so I can sort of meld the maple syrup into learning about ecology  and trees,” he said. “I have the flexibility with this class to come up with  things on my own.” 

“It’s a locally developed class. It’s students who have been struggling with  academics. It’s a specialized program for kids who have struggled in the past  with education so this is an opportunity for them to work on a lot of skills  while exposing them to different ideas and that’s sort of how I have the freedom  to do the maple syrup,” Mulder said. 

“It’s about working on their environmental skills; their responsibility  skills.” 

Mulder and his students have been putting the finished product to good  use.

During the school’s recent Pancake Tuesday festivities, the class teamed up  with a learning and life skills class, doling out their maple syrup for the  students’ pancakes.

Before the March break started, Mulder bottled the maple syrup and gave it  out to his students so they could bring it home during their time off. 

One student expressed her excitement about taking the syrup home to her  grandmother, once an avid maple syrup harvester who hadn’t made any herself in  years. 

“The student was just thrilled to get some to bring home to her grandma and  show her what she’d made. So the kids have been very excited about it,” Mulder  said. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has been a welcomed exercise for  students who’ve been cooped up at home, he said. 

“Giving them something they can see and then identify with and just get their  hands on, it just makes it real to them.” 

The outdoor lessons tie in with his overall approach to educating youth. 

“My belief is, you’ve got to make the curriculum come alive and then students  can really integrate it into their personal lives. If they can see it, then it  makes more sense to them rather than just looking at it in a textbook, which  doesn’t really make a lasting impression on their mind. But if you can get them  out there and they can see the bucket, touch the tree, taste the sap and the  syrup — it sticks with them.” 

Mulder plans on retiring next year, but said he hopes the outdoor program  will continue. He even wants to volunteer to help out with the harvesting  post-retirement. 

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His  reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism  Initiative.

By Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 10, 2023 at 16:28

This item reprinted with permission from   The Peterborough Examiner   Peterborough, Ontario
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