Friday, August 20, 2010

Back to School with Twig Walkingstick: The Pencil Tree

Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where he enjoys the prairie plant in Secrest Arboretum. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q: Dear Twig, What kinds of wood do they make wood pencils out of?

A. My feathered friend Weezerbird told me something at lunch last week. (He had grubs. I had leaves.)  

He said, “That place you work at (Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, part of Ohio State University) has the biggest incense cedar tree in Ohio.”

I said, “What’s an incense cedar tree?”

He said, “The tree they make pencils out of.”

And he was right. I checked. (He actually usually is.) (Don’t tell him I said that.) 

American pencil companies make their pencils out of wood from California incense cedar trees. Reasons: The wood is soft. Soft for a wood, that is. So pencil-makers can shape it into pencil shapes easily. It sharpens easily, too. It doesn’t make splinters. And also it smells good.

Incense cedars are coniferous evergreens. As, for example, pines are. Incense cedars grow in the wild out West. But people plant them in other places, too.


P.S. Find Ohio’s No. 1 incense cedar in Ohio State’s Secrest Arboretum!

The California incense cedar is a specific species: Calocedrus decurrens. There also are species that have the common names Taiwan incense cedar and China incense cedar.

One hundred or so years ago, U.S. pencil-makers made pencils out of eastern red cedar trees. But those got used up and scarce. So the switch was made to California incense cedar trees, which were and are easy to come by out West, including now in managed plantings. In other parts of the world, people make pencils out of eastern red cedar relatives.

Secrest Arboretum is part of Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

Follow these links to learn more about Ohio’s biggest trees and pencil-making details.

Using this information for education:
Students (and especially their parents) spend a lot of time getting ready to go back to school, and one of those traditions is back to school shopping. But have you ever considered talking about those purchases and supplies your students will be using throughout the year as an educational topic and not just a tool?

In our last post we talked about the importance of teaching economics. This is another great (and fun) example of a product to talk about. This example also shows how production has changed over the years based upon factors like the supply (and demand) of specific varieties of trees!

Want to know more about these pencil trees? Here are some follow up questions Twig answered when this column first appeared in September 2008:

Q. Dear Twig: I know something else they make pencils out of. It isn’t plastic, either. It’s paper!

A. Excellent! You’re right. There are companies that make pencils out of recycled paper. (The part of the pencil you hold, that is. Not the graphite.)  Some of that paper is recycled newsprint — newspaper paper. Some of that paper is recycled money — worn-out bills (dollar bills, etc.) that the government took out of circulation (collected to keep people from using anymore) and shredded. There are pencils made out of sawdust, scrap cardboard and blue-jean scraps, too.

Whatever the case (The pencil case! Ba ha ha ha ha ha heeeeeeee!), a strong glue holds it all together so it looks and is shaped like a normal wood pencil. Making new pencils from thrown-away stuff puts trash to good use and saves trees.

Did you know you can make pencils out of twigs? Twigs from trees, that is, not me. You cut them, drill them, and fill them with graphite. I’d find that a bit uncomfortable.


P.S. Q. Why did the elephant use a recycled-paper pencil? A. His pen broke. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Makers of really nice twig pencils include John Wyant of Minnesota,  (crayons, too!)and Roger Plant of England.

Q. Dear Twig: So what are those recycled pencils like?

A. Pretty much like regular pencils. You hold them the same. You write with them the same. I have one here in my hands. It’s made out of recycled newsprint. It’s painted green. The paint feels smooth. The graphite, the “lead,” is normal gray.

I sniff the pencil. It doesn’t smell like a regular pencil (which owes its scent to incense cedar wood.) I smell a tiny paint smell, though. But you have to have the pencil up your nose, or at least right under it, to detect it.

I taste it. Myem, myem. I doesn’t seem to have any taste. (Spit.)

I sharpen it. I stick it into an electric sharpener. Rrr. The graphite comes out nice and pointy. The sharpened-down paper around it looks white.

I sharpen another one (same kind). The sharpened-down paper on this one looks white. But also: The white has these wavy red, blue and black lines in it. Neat.

That’s all I have to say about pencils.


P.S. Hardened glue holds them together, so recycled pencils can be harder to sharpen.

Recycled pencils come painted in other colors besides green, of course. And the graphite/lead in them comes in other colors besides gray.

People have different opinions about the environmental benefits, or not, of recycled-material pencils, no matter if the material is newsprint, scrap wood, old money or old blue jeans. Making recycled pencils takes energy, of course — for grinding, shredding, forming them, etc. — plus non-”green” stuff like paint and glue. So there’s that.

Pencils made out of trees, meanwhile, need cutting, shaping and so on. They also, ideally, should be sustainably managed. That means making sure that both the supply of trees and the health of the forest both stay good pretty much forever.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to School: Lessons in Economics

So we told you last week that we were going to spend August sharing some great resources with you for bringing agriculture into your classrooms. I mean, after all, shouldn't everyone know where there food comes from and how it got from the farm gate to their plate? But if you thought we were only going to share science lessons with you, think again!

Everyone is talking about the economy these days. In fact, it seems that about all adults have talked about for the last two years. But kids need to learn about economics, too...about supply and demand and the industries that keep our state and our country running. And folks, some of those key industries are agriculture.

Yep, you heard me right. While farmers account for less than 2 percent of our country's population, agriculture is the largest industry in Ohio today. And it's not "just farming." It's biotechnology and research. It's green energy. It's food processing and animal care. It's an industry that touches your life each and every day in more ways that you can count. I promise.

So it only makes sense to talk about agriculture when you're teaching students about economics. But how do you merge the two? Easy! Producing Ohio: Creating our Economy has everything you need to teach 5th - 8th graders about economics. It's an interactive, multimedia economics curriculum with dynamic and entertaining cross-curricular lessons designed to give students the knowledge and tools they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.

The curriculum includes real-life applications representing a range of industries and enterprises as it explores key economic principles from the inside out. Students go to the farm, get on the production line with manufacturing, and visit the education and service sectors. As they make their way through 11 lesson and five segmented video, students will meet 16 essential economic standards recommended by the National Council on Economic Education. Each unit includes structured lesson plans, black line masters, Web-based activities and opportunities to integrate economics across the curriculum:

  • In Factors of Production students look at a rural school district to determine the factors involved with delivering a service: education.
  • Markets and Prices takes students to a farm in America's Corn Belt to study the supply & demand chain, and students explore how a consumer purchasing corn flakes is linked to the cereal producer, grain buyer and ultimately the farmer.
  • The telecommunications industry is a perfect example for students to learn about Monopoly & Competitive Markets.
  • Markets & Competition  are driven by targeted market research, trends, product innovation and advertising in this example featuring a popular drink targeted to tweens.
  • The gloabl market takes center stage as students explore International Trade through design, manufacturing and comparing the competitive advantage U.S. suppliers of specialized machinery enjoy & the various advantages that support imported materials and products from Brazil.

Producing Ohio kits are available for online ordering ($65 each). Producing Ohio is a collaborative project of the Greater Cincinnati Television Educational Foundation/CET and the Economics Center for Education and Research at the University of Cincinnati.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to School: Discover Dairy

August means it's time to head back to school. Teachers are scurrying to get their classrooms back in order. Moms are scurrying to finish their back to school shopping. And kids are scurrying to scrape up the last bits of enjoyment they can from summer. In honor of this oh-so-busy time of year, we're spending August highlighting some great educational resources to help you get ready  for the new school year.
Now back when I was in school, math was math and reading was reading and the two never seemed to mix. But educators today seem to be much more organized and creative when it comes to creating meaningful and memorable lessons that cut across traditional subject boundaries.

Such is the case with the new (and free) Discover Dairy curriculum with four new comprehensive designed specifically for middle school students. This hands-on program teaches students where their milk comes from and how dairy farmers contribute to our world all while applying science concepts to real-life situations. But it's not "just" science: the Discover Dairy program (which includes videos, reading guides and lab-based instruction) also meets educational science standards in math, science and reading. The curriculum was developed as a joint initiative of the Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program, the Center for Dairy Excellence and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and is funded by the Dairy Checkoff program.

These new lessons build on the existing Discover Dairy lessons that were launched in 2008 and designed for upper elementary students. Since it's launch, the series has been used in more that 300 Pennsylvania classrooms and more than 15 states. The Discover Dairy website also draws about 1,000 visitors each month and includes farm tour resources for farmers and interactive games for kids, such as Operation Dairy where kids put on their detective hats and join Cammie the Cow in discovering how cows are cared for on today's dairy farms.

Five different lessons are available for upper elementary students. Each lesson features multi-leveled activities to address different cognitive levels. Topics include:

  • Animal Health
  • Milk Safety
  • Environment
  • Community
  • Nutrition
Middle school educators can use the four new lessons, each of which includes two lab activities, for students on:
  • Animal Health
  • Milk Safety & Quality
  • Dairy's Role in the Environment
  • Dairy's Role in the Community
So as you gear up to head back to school, don't forget: dairy and milk are not just for lunch time! They make great lessons, too. Interested in learning more about dairy? Be sure to check out these great dairy blogs to learn more about dairy production! 

And don't forget, teachers: Make sure your school is taking advantages of the resources available through the NFL's Fuel Up to Play 60 in-school initiative program to fight childhood obesity!

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