I have an amazing story to share about how a small online research project turned into an eight-year-long learning experience for myself, my students, and even NASA! It involves a tree, a sycamore tree that looks like any other sycamore tree. However, this tree has one unique difference...it is a Moon Tree.
What is a Moon Tree? That is the question to which my 1997-1998 third grade class at Cannelton Elementary School in Cannelton, Indiana wanted to find the answer. It was my first time involving my students in an online collaborative project. The project asked for students all over the world to research a tree and a forest in their area and they would publish their work on their website. The project, "The Trees and Forests Project" — hosted by Elanora Heights Primary School in Sydney, Australia — is no longer online. However the learning that took place for my students that year has continued to this very day!
We were discussing what tree and forest we wanted to research. Choosing the forest was easy; since we are Hoosiers, we chose the Hoosier National Forest. Choosing the tree was not so easy. The students had many ideas: the Tulip Poplar (our state tree), the Dogwood (popular during the spring here), and Sugar Maple (one was growing near our school). But we could not make up our minds. Then one of my students, a member of the Girl Scouts, mentioned that there was a tree with an odd sign in front of it at the local Girl Scout camp. She said, "It is a Moon Tree," but when we asked her what that meant, she said she didn’t really know.
Curiosity had us! We chose the Moon Tree. As it happens, our school secretary's father was the director of Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp for many years, and so we asked him if he knew about it. He said that in 1976, as part of the camp's celebration of our country's bicentennial, they had gotten this tree as a young tree from the US Forestry Service. He was unsure why it was called a Moon Tree except it had something to do with the Apollo Missions.
Our next step was to go online. We went to NASA's website and searched through the Apollo archives, looking for any possible science experiments or research projects that may have occurred on the Apollo missions involving trees. We could find nothing at all. Then we decided to Email Dr. Dave Williams, planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who archives all of the Apollo mission information online. He did not know what a Moon Tree was either, but he told us he would find out! Within days he had asked many people at Goddard and finally found out that it was Apollo 14 command module pilot Stuart Roosa, a former forestry smoke jumper, who started this project. Dave told us that Roosa had taken with him on the mission, as part of his personal kit, a canister of several hundred tree seeds. They orbited the moon with him in the command module while Alan Shephard and Ed Mitchell walked on the moon.
Upon returning to Earth the seeds were germinated by the US Forestry Service. Stan Krugman, then the Staff Director for Forest Genetics Research, did several tests, including DNA testing, on the seeds. He and his crew found that they seemed to have suffered no ill effect from their incredible journey, Now, what to do with the trees? It was finally decided that, as part of the celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial, the trees would be sent around the country to schools, state capitals, the White House, and even private organizations such as the Cannelton Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp. Some trees were even sent abroad, to Europe and one even went to Japan! However, the records that told when and where the trees were sent have disappeared. So, it is a mystery as to where all of the "Moon Trees" have gone!
Dr. Williams was such a huge help to our research. He sent us all of the above information and he kept sending us more as the months progressed. His curiosity was up! Wanting to know where all of the Moon Trees were, he decided to create a Web page, The “Moon Trees” to document and archive the whereabouts of all of the trees, be they first generation, second generation, alive or dead. He has found fifty so far, and is hoping that people who know of one will contact him to let there. His website is at:
Our own research was published on the now defunct "Trees and Forests" website. We told of the trees, of Astronaut Stuart Roosa's love of forests, and why he chose to bring along the seeds. The website stayed online for close to three years until the teacher in charge of it, Judith Bennett, retired. During that time, we received an Email from Jack Roosa, son of the astronaut Stuart Roosa. He told us he still missed his father (who had passed away in 1994) very much, was glad to see our project, and thanked us for telling of the world about his father's part of the historic Apollo 14 flight. It was the first of many Emails we exchanged with Jack.
During the school year of 2003-2004, my Media Club students were discussing what research project they wanted to do for the year. It just so happens that one of those students was the brother to one of the boys in that original "Moon Tree" class. He proposed that we do further research on our Moon Tree and publish our own website. And so they did! Their project includes new information about our tree, information about the Apollo 14 mission, the Moon, and more! It is called "Our Wonderful Moon Tree.".
The students presented this project at their district and state Media Fair, where it won top honors! It was then sent on to the international level at the International Student Media Festival where it won an "Excellence in Media Production" award. It has also placed Gold in a Cyberfair project, as can be seen at Global SchoolNet's 2004 International Cyberfair.
All of this gives the search for the Moon Trees more focus. Dr. Williams gets Emails every week from people who know of a Moon Tree or ask about the Moon Trees, so it just keeps on going!
The year my students created "Our Wonderful Moon Tree" they noticed that the sign that my original students had placed by the tree had weathered badly. So, they raised money and had a new wooden sign made. They planned a dedication for the sign to be placed by the tree and wanted our special friends to be there. We wrote to Jack Roosa to invite him, but he was being deployed and would not be available, so he told his brother, Christopher Roosa about it. Christopher, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Reserves, did come! Also present was US Forester Tom Thake. All of them spoke at the dedication to an audience that included our entire student body, administration, local Girl Scout representatives, and parents and other community members. Dr. Williams spoke of the search for the Moon Trees, Lt. Col. Roosa spoke of his father's work as an astronaut and as a smoke jumper, his love of the outdoors and of forests. Forester Thake spoke of the importance of trees in our lives and for our environment. Then my students unveiled the new sign. It was a fantastic experience for them, and they published photos of this event on their Website to keep the memory of the wonderful day alive.
It does not stop there, however! This past fall (Fall 2004) we received an Email from the publishers of Scott Foresman textbooks. They were interested in using this story of the Moon Trees in their upcoming third grade science textbook! We of course, were thrilled that they wanted to include the story and the photograph. You can see this special NASA article on pages 134-135 in the third grade edition of the Science textbook.
Also last Fall we received a warm invitation from Cristopher Roosa, now a full Colonel! His plan was to plant a Moon Tree in honor of his father at Arlington Cemetery, and he wanted us to be there to help plant it! We were there for the planting, which took place on February 8, 2005. We met up with Dr. Williams and his family plus the entire Roosa family.
Now my students can tell their children and their grandchildren that they helped plant that special tree, growing near the gravesite of the Unknown Soldiers and only a few hundred feet away from the gravesite of Stuart Roosa! You can view photographs of this event on our School News page.
In the Spring of 2005, Dr. Williams contacted us to say that a reporter from the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) was going to get in touch with us. They had contacted Dr.Williams about how the search for the Moon Trees got started, and he told them about us! On May 14 we were interviewed and on July 20 the BBC Radio 4 broadcast the documentary! It was another wonderful experience for my students!
You can see the online article on “Trees…from the Moon."
As you can see, the Moon Tree project that we started back in 1997 has taken on a life of its own! We love our Moon Tree. We feel it is a living monument to the Apollo missions and that it gives hope for a bright future for our world. We invite you to visit our project. Also, if you know of any Moon Trees, check with Dr. Williams' “Moon Trees” website to see if it is archived, and if not, contact him and let him know about it.
We would love to hear from you also!
Email: Joan Goble