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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»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

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 Content

  • 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

Entered the Collection: February 2012 Last Reviewed: July 2016

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