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Making Sense of Data - Tree Growth and Climate

Climate Change and Michigan Forests

In this learning activity, students analyze an actual dataset of the influence of temperature on tree growth. They use mathematical and statistical concepts like slope equations and lines of best fit to determine the relationship. They are then asked to make predictions about future tree growth under different greenhouse gas emissions, interpreting data from climate models to make these predictions.

This learning activity takes one 50 min class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Grade Level

We recommend high school and up. Too complex (and dry!) for middle school.

Regional Focus

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

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

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

  • This activity is part of a larger set of curriculum that can be downloaded from the organization website and made into an entire unit.
  • Educators should note that this activity, using this particular data set and this particular location and this particular April date gives the impression that warming is good for trees when the results for different plants, locations and dates would likely yield different results. Teachers need to explain this or students might easily come to the conclusion that increased carbon dioxide emissions are good.
  • This activity could be described as somewhat dense and dry. Teachers should carefully review the materials to determine how appropriate they are for a particular class. Using only a portion of the lesson might be considered. The mathematics of the ecological model and the graph work is pretty sophisticated and would be best when seeking to incorporate quantitative skills into an ecology or climate change lesson.

About the Content

  • Students analyze tree growth data over time in order to determine the relationship with temperature. Students are then asked to make predictions of tree growth rate in future emission scenarios where temperatures will increase.
  • Students work with actual data and use mathematical and statistical concepts.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Excellent resource for understanding how X-Y graphs work
    - Interpretation of data while taking into account different emission scenarios from IPCC
    - Further discussion on how other factors (beside climate change) will affect tree growth
    - Break down of independent and dependent variables, trends of the data, and variables of the line of best fit (y=mx+b)

About the Pedagogy

  • Group-based activity.
  • Students share and interpret their graphs to discuss and make predictions about the relationship between temperature and tree growth.
  • Students interpret scientific models showing the predicted growth of six tree species in multiple greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.
  • Students articulate the purpose of a line-of-best-fit and interpret the y = mx+b equation for a line, and describe why it is important to use large data sets.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • All necessary resources for this activity are provided with the lesson plan, and each part is laid out in sequence from a single menu.
  • The sections include: Lesson overview; learning objectives and standards alignment; PowerPoint slides; video with scientist; tree growth graphs; tree information cards; worksheets with keys.
Entered the Collection: August 2018 Last Reviewed: July 2018

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