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Abstract:
Project A.C.O.R.N. (Area-Alamo Children Organized to Replant Natives) is children planting trees. It is a metaphorical reference for students about how small beginnings, such as an acorn, can produce large outcomes over time. At this time, we are planting native pecan, walnut, and wilt resistant oak trees.

Students plant seeds gathered from local, native trees growing wild in natural areas without benefit of irrigation, produced by forest giants which by size or age indicate the likelihood of superior traits for survival over many cycles of drought. Historic trees and champion trees are additional seed sources. Other native plants will be grown as a diverse community around each tree including understory trees, vines, shrubs, wildflowers, bulbs, and ground covers to function as restored migration stations for species such as Monarch Butterflies providing students with high interest opportunities to observe and record seasonal cycles in nature.

After the seeds sprout later in the spring, mulching and weeding activities are structured as learn-by-doing events on Saturday mornings. They will plant in a grid to be monitored. Remaining trees may be adoptions for participants to take trees home.
Best educational practice through hands on lab and field investigations engage students in real life applications of essential knowledge and skills. Although this community outreach activity emphasizes the service of planting trees with many attendant benefits including the following: producing oxygen, sequestration of carbon, filtering air, reduced erosion, water conservation, habitat restoration, increased biodiversity, improvement of soil through fallen leaves, preservation of locally adapted characteristics for survival, aesthetics, history, summer shade and reduced energy costs homes if trees are situated to shade homes, and more. It is the primary function of Project ACORN to channel the excitement generated during the events into the development of new and successful tree planters. Families are encouraged to plant in memory of family members or community leaders who have defended our rights.

Children will mature along with the trees planted and their sense of ownership and stewardship, developed through the understanding of correlated environmental measurements, can be passed down across generations to become part of the culture of the community.

During the entire course of the school year, students monitor water, soil, and air conditions at the site during weekly walking-field trips to observe and collect the measurements for tree survival and wildlife predation as project based learning and as a joint research project with the City Parks Department. Measurements use protocols and standardized scientific tools through the Smithsonian Institute’s weather and climate Tree Banding study and the NASA, NOAA, and NSF sponsored GLOBE program (Global Learning and Observing to Benefit the Environment.) Students record observations including analysis and correlation of air, water, and soil temperatures, cloud cover and cloud type, dissolved oxygen, pH levels, conductivity, turbidity, GPS site definition, rainfall, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, barometric pressure, etc. Students are taught through trans-disciplinary academics along with leadership, teamwork, and problem solving communication skills intended to provide continued academic success in school and beyond as they become citizen scientists and good stewards of the natural world.

Students will select the following projects to document:

(1) Monitoring Tree Research Grid
(2) Providing and Monitoring Way Stations for Insects and Birds by Gardens or Seed Balls
(3) Tree Bands to Monitor Mature Native Tree Growth
(4) Streams and Water Sheds Seasonal Studies

Rationale:
The Texas Forest Service estimates that around 5 million shade trees were lost in urban areas due to weather extremes in Texas in 2012 and half a billion trees died elsewhere around the state. That number represents about 10% of the state’s shade trees. Costs for removal of dead trees, increased cooling costs due to the loss of shade, and reduced property values due to death of mature landscape trees in urban neighborhoods are additional costs for homeowners and businesses with landscapes. According to the city forester, San Antonio is already in need of 20 million additional canopy forming shade trees to offset development and growth into natural areas around the city.

Limited water resources in Texas seem at the point of impacting the current trend of significant population increases and the state’s resilience during the national economic downturns of the past several years. The dramatic positive economic impact of south Texas oil and gas development makes use of “fracking” along the extensive Eagle-Ford Shale geologic formation. However the significant use of water during the procedure is of great concern in this area already known for the lack of water.

Natural ecosystems, especially near rapidly expanding cities, are often damaged during development. Invasive species and loss of biodiversity further stress natural habitats and the species which migrate through these areas. Exploding deer populations eat all seedling trees produced in natural areas threatening the ability of mature trees to regenerate forested areas. Feral hogs are an expanding and very destructive non-native species causing significant damage to native plant and animal species. Wildfires during recurring drought destroy homes and rural habitat as well. Private land owners and state parks seldom have adequate funding to restore habitat damaged or destroyed by wild fires.

Childhood obesity and diabetes rates are increasing. Diabetes and obesity programs all stress the need for increased activity and improved nutrition as the only reliable defense against these trends. Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods describes many problems faced by youth to what he called NDS or Nature Deficit Syndrome. A grass roots response is developing nationwide under the name “Children In Nature.” Recognizing that we are all children of Mother Nature, the movement encompasses children and adults of all ages.

Project A.C.O.R.N. (Alamo-area Children Organized to Replant Natives) provides a strong and positive response to each of these concerns. The impact is both immediate and direct through the planting of native trees with good genetic pedigrees, but also represents a long term change in the culture of the community by instilling principals of stewardship of the natural world through the legacy of developing and motivating new tree planters.

Project A.C.O.R.N’s Measurable Objectives:

1. Teachers will documents that their students will comply with state science standards during studies of change over time and constancy, cycles in nature, soil characteristics, plant life cycles, adaptations, and natural resources by planting seeds of native tree species to be transplanted later into the ACORN Project site.

2. Teachers will documents how their students will observe, record, & report measurements (weekly, monthly, quarterly,) during the school year using standardized scientific tools and protocols from the GLOBE program. They will correlate environmental data in the vicinity of the planting site including temperature (such as air, soil, water, and surface temperatures using thermometer, probes, or infrared thermometers) cloud cover and cloud type, GPS site definition, bud burst and leaf drop (green up and green down,) rainfall, and tracking migratory species such as Monarch Butterflies and Humming Birds. (PLT goals & common core curriculum / GLOBE IOP / Carbon Cycle / Haze (air quality)

3. Teachers will documents that their students will achieve a plant community by planting at least 7 additional species of understory trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, and ground covers from an approved list of native plants around the native canopy trees planted during the initial phase of the ACORN Project with a survival rate of at least 50% after 5 years.

4. Teachers will documents that their students will participate in Community Outreach Service Project involving themselves, their families, and volunteers to work together with established organizational structure provided through the following: the GLOBE Program, the Smithsonian Institute tree banding program, the Texas Master Naturalists, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the City Parks and Recreation Department, native plant organizations such as the Native Plant Society of Texas, and state and local water agencies.

5. Educational research opportunity will be provided for OLLU teachers to learn how to do a mini research project with special population students using the Project Based Learning: ACORN Model by integrating skills learned in the Chemistry and Life Science courses documented and assessed with research skills learned in the Method courses.

The ACORN Project as an Advisory Board has members from Native Plant Society, San Antonio Urban Forestry, San Antonio River Authority, UT Austin Division of Philosophy and Biodiversity in Biology, UTSA Geophysics in Climate Study of Anarchic, and Project Learning Tree.

Summary of Protocols and TEKS used for the four ACORN Projects

Each Teacher will select two of the four projects for their Project Based Learning; if there are several teachers from the same campus, they may collect data more often.
Students will select the following projects to document:
(1) Monitoring Tree Research Grid
(2) Providing and Monitoring Way Stations for Insects and Birds by Gardens or Seed Balls
(3) Tree Bands to Monitor Mature Native Tree Growth.
(4) Water Shed and Stream Seasonal Studies

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