Garden of delights: The Arboretum at Penn State

June 09, 2011

The Arboretum at Penn State is a peaceful place with lily pads floating on flat-water ponds; delicate flowers flanking curved walkways; and young leaves stretching out from the branches of graceful trees. But the arrival of 300 fourth-graders on April 29 changed the mood from serene to spirited.

The children -- from Park Forest Elementary School, Grays Woods Elementary School, and Radio Park Elementary School -- visited the garden to learn about pollination, tree identification, sapling growth and planting, and even tree climbing as it pertains to tree maintenance. The annual Arbor Day event, which was held for the first time last year, is part of an outreach effort sponsored by the Arboretum at Penn State and faculty and staff of the College of Education, the College of Agricultural Sciences, and the School of Forest Resources.

“The Arbor Day event is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to young children in the State College Area School District and teach them about the importance of trees and their various roles in the ecosystem,” said Heather Zimmerman, assistant professor of education in the instructional systems program, who participated in the event.

During the event, faculty and staff led children through a variety of hands-on learning stations. For example, Zimmerman, along with Associate Professor of Education Susan Land and a team of six education graduate students, led a station titled, “Tree Investigators,” in which they used iPads and iPods (provided by Penn State’s Educational Technology Services) to give the kids an in-depth lesson on how to identify trees.

“We used iPads to figure out what type of tree we were planting,” said Collin Wayne, a student from Park Forest Elementary School, who attended the event. “We were in groups and we used a tree-finder app. You take a picture of a symbol and it tells you about the tree.”

Zimmerman said that her team told the children they needed to solve a tree mystery, in which someone donated a tree to the arboretum, but no one knew what type of tree it was. “To solve the mystery, the students had to learn to identify trees and then search for clues about what the mystery tree was,” she said. “And, just like detectives, the students got to use some cool tools to investigate the mystery.”

The children used the cameras on iPads and iPods, along with a Microsoft Tag Reader app, to access additional information, characteristics, and photos about the trees. “We had a computer monitor and a camera in a tent, along with various ‘tags’ that revealed characteristics (images) of the mystery tree when students held the markers up to the camera,” said Land. “The students then used an app called ‘U.S. Trees’ to narrow down the type of tree that was the ‘mystery tree,’ based on the characteristics presented.”

So what was the mystery tree?

“Our tree was a flowering dogwood,” said Collin.

According to Zimmerman, the dogwood was one of the types of tree that the children helped plant in the arboretum later that afternoon.

Other learning stations at the event included Tree Climbing, Historical Reenactment, Arborist Crew, Watershed Conservation, Reptiles, Pollinator Demonstration, Tree-Ring Demonstration, Pressed-Flower Bookmarkers, and Tree Planting.

“My favorite part of the day was getting to pet a snake,” said Collin. “It was a harmless milk snake, and we learned how to tell it apart from poisonous snakes.”

To see a photo slideshow of the event, go to:

To learn more about other outreach efforts sponsored by the College of Education, go to:


  • Michael Mohney, a doctoral student in instructional systems and an instructor of landscape contracting, shows elementary-school children how to use an iPad to look up information about trees.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 13, 2011