Autumn is a lovely time of year; inspiring us with images of football, falling leaves, hot apple cider, and holidays with the family. It’s an easy time of year to celebrate, even in your class lessons.
How much do your students really know about fall? They may know why leaves change color, or that the Pilgrims first made landfall on the New World in November 1620. But did they know that those Pilgrims first landed in Cape Code, rather than Plymouth? Or that squirrels try to fake each other out in the fall, when they’re hiding their nuts?
Our goal as educators is to spark our students’ curiosity and infuse them with a love of learning. You never know what simple idea might galvanize a youngster, inspiring an entire future course of learning. Here we’ve compiled several fun and intriguing facts about fall that may not only fascinate your students, but also motivate them toward a future career:
For the Biologist:
Fact: Some animals are smarter in fall.
The phrase “bird-brain” may not be an appropriate insult in the fall. Studies have shown that the hippocampus of some birds – especially those that cache food for the winter – actually increase in size as much as 30% during the fall caching months.
Squirrels may undergo a similar phenomenon. Certainly their memory is nothing short of amazing, as they recover hundreds of nuts, hidden weeks earlier. UC Berkeley neuroscience researcher Pierre Lavenex, said, "They use information from the environment, such as the relative position of trees and buildings, and they triangulate, relying on the angles and distances between these distant landmarks and their caches… Such a feat would not be possible for humans."
Scientific opinion seems to differ on whether or not squirrel brains increase in size in the fall. However, squirrels do exhibit a trait your students may find entertaining: they try to fake each other out, so their competitors won’t steal their nuts. When squirrels know they’re being watched, they create “false caches,” making a great show of burying imaginary nuts, in order to trick their opponents.
See more fascinating facts on squirrel caching behavior in these articles:
Another Fun Fact: Some turkeys don’t gobble.
In CNN’s Fun Thanksgiving Facts, we learn that only male turkeys, called toms, make a gobble sound.
For the Entrepreneur:
Fact: In 13 years, Starbucks has sold over 200 million pumpkin spice lattes.
Students with keen minds for business should know that changing seasons present wonderful opportunities for profit-making enterprises. In class this fall, discuss some of the ingenious ways that entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the fall season, and then challenge student teams to come up with their own Autumn Business Plan.
Clever fall business ideas include:
Who else is making money in the Fall?
- New England – with its $3 billion dollar/year business in fall leaf-viewing tourism
- Minnesota – the top turkey-producing state in America
For the Meteorologist or Botanist:
Fact: Global climate change affects fall colors.
This article from Appalachian State University explores various ways that climate affects fall foliage, including factors such as:
- Timing and/or amounts of precipitation
- Length of the growing season
- Acidic deposition that leaches nutrients out of the soil
And just in case your students didn’t really know why leaves change colors, this article will explain that, too! (Hint: it has to do with the process of leaf senescence, usually involving the loss of chlorophyll).
For the Historian:
Fact: Halloween is more Irish than St. Patrick’s Day.
According to the Huffington Post, Halloween’s origins come from a Celtic festival for the dead called “Samhain.” Celts believed the ghosts of the dead roamed Earth on this holiday, so people tried to appease these roaming spirits by dressing in costumes and leaving “treats” out on their front doors.
This article will also entertain your students with other “weird, fun facts about Halloween,” such as:
- Historically, in Europe you had to dance for your treat
- In a few American towns, Halloween was originally referred to as “Cabbage Night.”
- In the Middle-Ages, the poor dressed up in costumes and went door-to-door during Hallowmas begging for food or money in exchange for prayers
- Black cats are associated with Halloween because they were once believed to carry their masters’ dark powers
History Fact #2: Pilgrims celebrating the First Thanksgiving had neither turkeys nor forks!
Check out more fun Thanksgiving facts from All Parenting and History.com.
For the Geographer:
Fact: Kyoto, Japan is one of the top 10 places on the planet to see autumn leaves.
This is NatGeo’s opinion, and those folks are usually pretty well-travelled. They say Japan has a strong leaf-viewing tradition, called koyo. One of the best spots for koyo is Kyoto, on the island of Honshu, where vivid leaves frame sloping temple roofs, remnants of the city’s many centuries of imperial history.
You can also inspire your students with Weather.com’s photo gallery of 50 Stunning Places around the World to See Fall Color.
For the Artist:
Fact: Autumn is an inspirational season for artists.
But then again, what season isn’t? To get your art students in the mood for Fall, show them these famous examples of fall-inspired artwork, and then see what they can create on their own.
For the Writer:
Fact: Keats’ poem "To Autumn" has been regarded by critics as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language.
John Keats’ classic poem features lines such as, ““Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue...”
See other classic poems about autumn here, including James Whitcomb Riley’s “When the Frost Is on the Punkin” (“and the fodder’s in the shock”).
After your students are thoroughly inspired, see what autumn magic they can create with the written word.
For the Musician:
Fact: Tom Petty and Snoop Dog were both born on October 20 (21 years apart).
If that doesn’t get your students fired up, what will? OK, how about Billboard’s 10 Best Autumn Songs, including:
And for your classical music students:
Now challenge your students to write their own song for the season.
For the Fashion Designer:
Finally, if you still haven’t gotten their attention, show your students “everything they’ll be wearing” this season, according to Elle’s complete guide to fall fashion 2017.
Share your own fun fall facts in our Comments section below.