UNIVERSITY PARK – Christina Spohn can walk around any wooded area on campus and identify every maple tree she sees. She also knows enough about the process of maple sugaring that she can teach adults and children about the method of making syrup — from tree to table.
Spohn is studying Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management and is among the many Penn State students who have taken a two-credit course about the process of making syrup and the skills required to teach this process to the public. These skills will culminate in the annual Maple Harvest Festival at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center later this month.
The festival has been a popular event for Shaver’s Creek since 1984. Thousands of people over the past 30 years have learned how to identify and tap sugar maple trees. They’ve visited the ‘Sugar Shack’ to see sap transformed into syrup, and then enjoyed a feast of hot pancakes and sausages with pure maple syrup. Every March, festival guests learn from a group of students who specifically chose to leave the classrooms at the University Park campus to engage with the outdoors at Shaver’s Creek.
The experiential course is called RPTM 297G- Interpreting Maple Sugaring to Families. Students learn how to interpret the natural history process of maple sugaring to the general public. This allows students to experience hands-on learning while they prepare to host a real-world community event.
“I loved the fact that we were in class and not just watching a power point presentation,” said Spohn. “We received academic credit for being outside, having fun and talking to people.”
Students said they learned a variety of new skills during the interpretation course – from how to interact and connect with the public to the best way to prepare for unpredictable weather conditions. They said the class forced them to move out of their comfort zones, think critically and work with a team.
“We used the skills we learned in class not only to interpret the maple sugaring process to the families, but also to grow their interest in nature and living as critical consumers,” said Spohn.
“Throughout this class, students are engaged in a process that allows them to learn a specific skill, as well as how to teach that skill in a creative, non-traditional way,” said Laurie McLaughlin, festival director and course instructor. “This process and experiential method of teaching not only involves them as a student, but allows them to learn life skills that they can apply to future careers.”
The Maple Harvest Festival will take place at the Penn State Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center on March 22 -23, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.