Kid scientists take a closer look at fall

While a lot of people are enjoying the sight of leaves changing to red, yellow, and orange, many students are having fun taking an even closer look at leaves. Some have turned leaves into international travelers. Others are participating in a scientific study of the color change.

For the past two years, students around the world joined in a leaf-sharing project designed by Nelida Frontera, a preschool teacher in the Chicago area. "I like collecting things," she says, "and I wanted to collect something about fall." She posted her idea on a Web site for teachers. Sixty-five classrooms around the world signed up! One of them was Mairead Power's kindergarten class at the North Dublin National School Project in Ireland.

First, students took a trip to the National Botanic Gardens. They collected 200 red, yellow, orange, and brown leaves (mostly beech and sycamore). They cleaned and laminated them. Then they sent three leaves each to 64 schools in the United States, Australia, and England.

The pupils enclosed a letter with the leaves. It asked students at the other schools to send leaves from their area.

Leaves from around the world

Soon envelopes of leaves began arriving in Dublin, Ms. Power recalls: maple leaves from Canada, palm fronds from Hawaii, pine needles from southern California. Many students also sent poems and songs they'd written. The Dublin students, with grown-up help, made leaf rubbings, leaf prints, and leaf-pattern T-shirts. They also learned about the trees that grow in different parts of the world.

Another student project, Following Fall, is now in its third year. It involves more than 35 schools around the US. Students choose trees near their school and watch as the leaves change color. They record information about the leaves and the weather and share their data with other schools.

Fourth-graders at Hill City School in Hill City, Minn., were involved in the project last year. Students were divided into groups of three or four. Each group chose a tree near the school to watch. Justin Boucher's group picked a sugar maple.

"We checked the tree every week and figured out what percentage of its leaves had changed color," he says. His group also recorded the daily temperature and how long the sun was up. They kept observations and information in a journal.

Lizzie Ulseth's group also selected a sugar maple, the leaves of which turn bright red in the fall. "It was cool," she said. Especially when they shared their data with students at Hunter Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. "Our leaves turned a lot sooner than theirs," she said. Student groups also came up with questions about leaves. Each student did his or her own research to answer the questions.

The fourth-graders also created their own Web pages to report their findings. They e-mailed information to Hunter students and the national Following Fall Web site, which posted all the findings.

The national project is coordinated by Bill Lindquist, working with Hamline University's Center for Global Environmental Education in St. Paul, Minn. Its purpose is to help students learn about nature, technology, and the scientific method.

The Hill City students found another bonus in their work.

"Some of the students made new friends at Hunter," says Hill City teacher Raina Boucher. "They shared information through e-mail and their Web pages, and sometimes got to know each other as they corresponded." The students learned how to make scientific observations and record data. They also got to take a nice excursion every week to check on their trees.

Why a banana is like a leaf

Trees near the Hill City School in Minnesota lose their leaves a lot sooner than those near the Hunter School in North Carolina. The Hill City sugar maples reached their color peak on Oct. 13 last year. The North Carolina leaves stayed green until November. That's because trees shut down their food factories when the temperature drops and the days grow shorter. This happens earlier in northern Minnesota than it does in North Carolina. The Hunter School is closer to Earth's equator, which means that the climate is warmer and winter days are longer than they are in Minnesota.

Leaves aren't the only things that change color because of chlorophyll. Unripe bananas are green for the same reason. As they ripen, they lose their chlorophyll and turn yellow. You may not be thrilled to see bananas turn yellow in the fall, but take a look at the leaves. The fall show has begun.

Web resources

The Following Fall project: If the colors are just beginning to change in your area, you may be able to register and become part of this year's study. You can also look at what other schools are reporting.

Nelida Frontera limits participation in her Preschool Leaf Collection Project to 25 schools, and registration for this year's project is now closed. She encourages teachers to begin their own projects. You can e-mail her at: Here's a list of the schools that participated in 1997 and 1998, with links to the schools' Web sites.


The Miracle of Fall site is maintained by the University of Illinois at Urbana.

It has information on fall colors, festivals and events, driving tours, leaf activities, and links to live 'foliage cams.'

The Stormfax Web site lists many state phone numbers you can call for foliage updates in those areas.

For more information on leaves, including games and other activities, see the Curious Kids Inc. Web site:


(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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