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Blooming Thermometers

Lisa Gardiner, et al., National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

In this activity, students develop an understanding of the relationship between natural phenomena, weather, and climate change: the study known as phenology. In addition, they learn how cultural events are tied to the timing of seasonal events. Students brainstorm annual natural phenomena that are tied to seasonal weather changes. Next, they receive information regarding the Japanese springtime festival of Hanami, celebrating the appearance of cherry blossoms. Students plot and interpret average bloom date data from over the past 1100 years.

Activity takes about one class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Axial tilt of Earth governs incoming sunlight and seasonality
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1c
Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3c
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
Other materials addressing:
A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
C) Systems and connections.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Consider an extension: Students might struggle with understanding the difference between regional climate and local weather in this activity. This presents a great opportunity for the educator to teach the link between weather (that influences the cherry blossom in a single year) and the regional climate - a good way of engaging students in this thinking process. (This is not done explicitly in activity and needs to be added by educator.)
  • Ideally students would look at the original data source and not just at the compiled data that is an average of centuries.
  • Exercise only asks students to do one graphing exercise - could easily be extended.

About the Science

  • Simple graphing exercise that illustrates the scientific process involved in phenology.
  • This method is used in Holocene paleoclimatology, not just for Japan and cherry blossoms but also from church records in Europe for apple blossoms etc., if educator wants to give additional examples.
  • Data ends in 1956, which is unfortunate. Activity can still be done with this data because it covers 10 centuries, but it would be easier for students to relate to this exercise if more recent data was given. See for more recent data: "Phenological data series of cherry tree flowering in Kyoto, Japan, and its application to reconstruction of springtime temperatures since the 9th century," by Aono and Kazui, 2008, International Journal of Climatology, page 908.
  • Educator be aware - Activity could lead to the misconception that the warmest period was the 10th century.
  • For generalized trends in changes in the phenology of different species see: Root, T. L., J. T. Price, K. R. Hall, S. H. Schneider, C. Rosenzweig, and J. A. Pounds (2003) Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421:57-60.
  • Comment from scientist: Deducing a global climate signal from cherry blossoms in Japan, as it is done in this exercise (see learning objectives), is wrong and scientifically not supported - this cannot be a learning objective or it will lead to misconceptions about proxies and global climate relations. It is a local climate proxy.
  • A lot of background materials for educators.

About the Pedagogy

  • Simple but illustrative graphing activity with good background materials for educator.
  • Graphing data and discussion will engages students with different learning styles.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Ready to use.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

MS-ESS2.D2:Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically.

MS-LS2.C1:Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C3.1:Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

MS-C5.4:The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P4.3: Distinguish between causal and correlational relationships in data.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P6.4:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events.

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