Talking Forest Collage

During our 2020 Summer Camp series, Art and the Ologies, we paired up two fields of scientific inquiry and explored the various ways that artwork illustrates and aids human understanding in those particular fields. From our week with "Entomology and Botany," we offer this particularly successful lesson about how, why, and with whom trees communicate. This is a fascinating topic that held the attention of our 6-9 year olds, as well as our 10-12 year old cohort. At the heart of this lesson is learning, appreciation, discussion, and something akin to shared wonderment.
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Students will understand the nature of a symbiotic relationship and how and why this relationship exists between trees and fungi.

Students will learn about the mycorrhizal network and its delivery of both resources and information within the forest ecosystem.

Students will be able to discuss the information presented using some or all of the following vocabulary words: photosynthesis, hub trees, mycelium, reciprocity, mycorrhiza, nutrients.

Students will consider other examples of symbiotic relationships in nature, including those in their own direct experience.

Students will create a collage that reflects their understanding of the concepts presented and discussed.

  • sheet of paper (preferably thicker than copy paper)- can be white or colored
  • several magazines 
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • fine tip sharpie pen 
  • pencil
  • eraser
1. Introduce the concept of trees communicating with one another. Make predictions about how they accomplish their communication given their lack of voice or expressive body.

2. Show students both of the videos listed below.

3. Have a discussion after each video. Begin with general questions about what they learned and/or noticed. Encourage use of the new vocabulary words by using those words in your questions. Review their meaning together.

4. Continue the discussion after both videos have been seen and expand it to include questions regarding reciprocity and symbiosis. Can they think of other examples of plants, animals, and people trading their services and abilities in order to receive help? You'll undoubtedly be surprised by their ability to transfer this knowledge to their own world. We ended up having a great conversation about parents and children and the reciprocity that exists in that relationship. Don't hurry through this part!

5. Ask students to create a collage of a talking forest, showing the scene both above the ground and below. Trees, their root systems and the mycorrhizal network can be created by cutting out shapes from their magazines and then glued onto the paper. You may want to demonstrate or have your own collage to show them.

6. Allow students some creative range now that you've arrived at the art making portion of the lesson. The "talking" can be illustrated through words, images, lines. There can be two trees or many. Encourage a decision about whether their tree(s) are hub trees or seedlings or somewhere in between.

7. As always, share and discuss your artwork once it's completed. Ask about successes and challenges during the process of making.


The Secret Language of Trees
- Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard: This video is particularly artful and imaginative in its presentation of information. The visuals are all drawn and movement is created through stop motion animation. It's about 4 1/2 minutes long.

How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other (National Geographic): This video begins with some fun movie clips that students might recognize. Otherwise, the information is presented in a very straight forward style. It is 3 1/2 minutes long.