“If you study nature in books, when you go out-of-doors you cannot find her.”
~ Louis Agassiz

Program overview

During this 5-day intensive (June 26 – 30, 2023), you’ll explore what it means to be a tree. We’ll cover the basics of identification (including the ecological reasons behind the differences in the shape of leaves, bark, buds, and fruits), how to measure the height, age, timber value, and history of a tree, adaptations trees have for dealing with the ecological conditions of the northern forests, and the role of parasites, invasive species, land-use history, competition, and mutualisms in shaping what our forests look like today. We’ll also discuss changes in Vermont’s forests since the retreat of the glaciers and what our future forests might look like. For course content, including syllabus, lectures, handouts, resources, and more, visit the participant’s page.

Program Objectives

  1. Use a variety of scientific tools and methods to understand what trees are, where they grow, how they interact with their environment, and
  2. Practice the use of ID keys to identify over 50 species of trees by leaves, bark, and fruits
  3. Understand the evolutionary and adaptive significance of the seemingly endless variety of tree forms (morphology)
  4. Explore the impact of land-use on forest composition
  5. Investigate the symbiotic links between common wildlife (beavers, deer, nesting birds, etc.) and trees
  6. Discuss common forest pathogens (native and introduced) and invasive species and the role these play in shaping the composition of Vermont’s forests
  7. Introduce accessible, free, and easy to use tools (digital maps, websites, apps, and field tools) to study trees
  8. Develop awareness practices and observation skills to deepen connection to place and the wild world

Course Details

Who: Anyone! There are no prerequisite skills required for the course, and educators and naturalists of all abilities are welcome. Participants should expect some light hiking, off trail exploration.
When: June 26 – 30, 2023, 8:30am – 4:00pm
Where: Burlington, VT with field trips to nearby natural areas
Cost: $650, includes lunch, resource packet, and a copy of Wetland, Woodland, Wildland. Optional: $375 for graduate credits (3) through Castleton. Financial aid may be available.

Upon completion of the program, you’ll receive a “Dendrologist certificate from Crow’s Path!

Course Format

  1. Field Trips: Daily excursions to various field sites that highlight over 45 species of trees
  2. Hands-on Activities: You’ll get your hands dirty with field and classroom activities that highlight accessible ways of studying and exploring the science and natural history of trees.
  3. Lectures: Each morning we will begin inside with a short slide show to provide content and context for our field trips
  4. Free exploration: There will be open time throughout the week to explore resources, discover natural history mysteries, and to connect with other educators
  5. Synthesis: We will conclude each day with a guided opportunity to identify meaningful ways of sharing content from the week with your students
The video below is a short lecture I recorded for an online Natural History course. It’ll give a good taste of what it’s like to be out in the field.

Want a more detailed look at the course?

For prospective participants, check out the detailed syllabus, which has details on each day, resources to guide your study, sample worksheets, lectures, field sites, and plenty of other helpful information

Teacher Testimonials

“More than anything this course helped me develop a way of thinking about and discovering the stories of a place. Teage gave us so many tools – introducing us to possible sites for field trips, practicing rapid site evaluation and tree ids, but also group discovery process to build our capacity to recognize patterns and unearth what’s happened here.”

Brian, Middle School Teacher

“This course gave me a huge content boost that I needed. While I may not get to the depth of this content with elementary students, it’s important to understand the bigger picture context and details. The hands-on exploration and analysis of field sites is a perfect model to use with students to enable them to apply their knowledge to construct a deeper understanding of landscapes. I can envision using these models with elementary students. I will also take and share the online activities (Where’s Waldo, image identification, etc.) to use with students in the event of continued remote learning. I know colleagues were struggling with ideas to keep kids engaged as time went on.”

Courtney, Elementary School Teacher

“It deepened my sense of place and understanding of the natural communities in which I teach. I will be able to help kids ask questions, look for evidence, and make their own guesses about what is going on in the natural communities around them, how things got that way, and what they might look like in the future.”

Dylan, Middle School Teacher

“This course is definitely in my top 3 courses of all time! I loved everything about it–the structure (lectures followed by most of the day outside in the field), then content, and the activities. It felt like summer camp for adults. It’s hard to pick one highlight. I really enjoyed learning more about sites around our community–most of which I have never been to. Going to the Lamoille Cave was probably the biggest highlight for me, although I truly enjoyed learning about each site. The food was incredible, too!”

Sarah, High School Teacher

Sample Day | Aging a tree

The flow of each day will be roughly the same. Below is what Day #3 might look like.

8:30–9:00 am Welcome, check-in and follow up on questions from previous day
9:00–10:00 am Lecture with an overview of tools for and applications of estimating the age of a tree, with focus on factors that affect the growth rate of different species
10:00am–12:00 pm Trip to first field site (East Woods in South Burlington). Spend time in the field using various techniques (diameter, annular growth rings, tree cores, counting whorls, etc.) to estimate the age of various tree species.
12:00–1:00 pm Travel to Red Rocks in South Burlington and enjoy a picnic lunch on the lake shore
1:00–3:00 pm Use the tools and skills we developed in the morning to determine the age of the forest and map out a timeline of prior forest succession and estimate the future date of when the site will become a climax forest.
3:00–3:30 pm Travel back to our classroom in Burlington
3:30–4:00pm Synthesis


Naturalist Educator

Founder and Executive Director of Crow’s Path, Faculty at CCV, Author of the Wild Burlington Newsletter, Co-host The Single Acorn Podcast