There are 22 eighth-grade students in Doug Patten’s first-period science class at Tenney School. When offered a choice of class projects upon returning from February break, they opted to make maple syrup.

Shortly after getting into their classroom on a blustery Tuesday morning, they headed out the back door to the wooded plot abutting the school. This was no walk in the park. They left the path, and mud tugged at their shoes; they lumbered over fallen trees and branches and slipped down hills on wet leaves. They were on a timed quest to identify and tap as many red maples (producing slightly less sweet sap than more customary sugar maples) as possible, then to wait for the sticky clear sap to start inching down the tube to the attached bucket. This was biology and STEM at its tastiest.

According to Patten, “Making maple syrup teaches students about the seasonal changes of maple trees, anatomy of a tree and the evaporation process while the students process information to support an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that support survival. Plus, the students get to try their own homemade maple syrup, and there may be some pancakes involved.”

Patten tapped a tree a few days prior, and the students examined the set-up in the hope of duplicating it. A gallon of sap had already accumulated at his tap, and it was carefully transferred from plastic bucket to a glass jug.

Then the kids set off on their search. They agreed on a tree, citing its exposure to the sun as an indicator that it would have a strong flow even on a cold day. Everything pointed to success, but disappointingly, tree No. 1 did not perform, perhaps due to sap in this tree being too cold to flow. As the day warmed up, the flow might start, but with the deadline looming the students broke into groups and scrambled to find another tree. They debated their two choices and opted for one in an even muddier area.

Eureka! New England’s liquid gold seeped out of the tree, through the tap, and down the tubing where the students could try a taste.

Jeremy Patterson liked it enough to try it twice, but reviews were mixed. Some students felt it had little, if no, flavor; others were dismayed at its taste. Anod others, based on their classmates’ reactions, opted to wait for the “good stuff” once it finished boiling. A third tree was tapped and its flow was even stronger, but had to be abandoned temporarily due to time constraints.

As his students moved throughout the day to other classes, Patten boiled the sap for 4.5 hours. By 2:15pm, it was ready. A gallon of sap had condensed to 4 ounces of syrup. And for those who can do the math, that means it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. For the day’s efforts, the sap harvesters had enough for a taste, if not a hearty breakfast. Fortunately, multiple trees in the woods promised a larger haul over the life of the project.

This is the third year Patten has offered maple sugaring to his students. Different years yielded vastly different amounts of syrup. And each year the project changes, based on class input. This class suggested producing a fictional marketing plan for their haul of “Tiger Syrup,” named for the school’s mascot. They set a selling point, based on local comparisons, employed value statements including “locally produced” and “organic,” created a fictional URL and a slogan: “Maple syrup that roars. Approved by Tigers everywhere!”

The product was ready to take to market, but producing 4 ounces a day would never meet demand. The rewards of this project would, out of necessity, remain in the classroom.