What Does Plant Biology Teach Us About Climate?


Christopher Chopp

Pace High School, Manhattan

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2010



Subject:  Earth Science

Grade Level: 8th to 10th

Duration:  40 minutes

Do Now:  What factors influence climate? What can trees tell us about the climate? How could they tell us these things?


  • Vocabulary: Precipitation, Average temperature, Climate, dendrochronology, crossdating



    Procedure: In this activity, students will compare the factors that influence climate, with how they affect tree ring growth. 

    1.    On the smartboard there is the do now question, “What factors influence climate? How do these factors also influence tree growth?" (Students are given 5 minutes to construct a response)

    2. Students are shown pictures of tree cores and they are told to fold a piece of paper in quarters and sketch and explain each picture. (Students are grouped in threes, and work together to sketch, explain, and present their findings. (10 min)



    1. Students are given one laptop per group of three and work on a web quest to guide them through learning about dendrochronology. (30 minutes)
    2. Tomorrow students present question 5 from their webquest worksheet, and design a lab that could help them answer their question. Their lab will include a hypothesis, and a procedure they will follow to carry out their experiment.



    Log on to (regentsprep.org) and answer the constructed response question about climate.


    Directions: Record your answers in the spaces provided in your answer booklet.

    Some questions may require the use of the Earth Science Reference Tables.

    Base your answers to questions 1 through 3 on the paragraph below, which describes some factors that affect Earth’s climate.

     Earth’s climate is in a delicate state of balance. Many factors affect climate. Any small change in the factors may lead to long-term cooling or warming of Earth’s atmosphere. For example, during the last 100 years, measurements have shown a gradual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This change has been linked to an increase in Earth’s average atmospheric temperature. Variations in the tilt of Earth’s axis have been similarly linked to the occurrence of ice ages. Both the increases in temperature and the occurrence of ice ages have been linked to changes in global sea level.

    1. State one reason for the increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere during the last 100 years.

    2. State one way that the recent increase in average global temperature can cause changes in ocean water level.

    3. State what would happen to the average summer and winter temperatures in New York State if the tilt of Earth’s axis were to decrease from 23½ to 20?

    National Standards: 


    Teaching Standard A


    Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students. In doing this, teachers 

    • Develop a framework of yearlong and short-term goals for students.

    • Select science content and adapt and design curricula to meet the interests, knowledge, understanding, abilities, and experiences of students.

    • Select teaching and assessment strategies that support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.

    • Work together as colleagues within and across disciplines and grade levels.


    Teaching Standard B


    Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning. In doing this, teachers:

    • Focus and support inquiries while interacting with students.

    • Orchestrate discourse among students about scientific ideas.

    • Challenge students to accept and share responsibility for their own learning.

    • Recognize and respond to student diversity and encourage all students to participate fully in science learning.

    • Encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry, as well as the curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism that characterize science.


    Teaching Standard C


    Teachers of science engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning. In doing this, teachers:

    • Use multiple methods and systematically gather data about student understanding and ability.

    • Analyze assessment data to guide teaching.

    • Guide students in self-assessment.

    • Use student data, observations of teaching, and interactions with colleagues to reflect on and improve teaching practice.     

    • Use student data, observations of teaching, and interactions with colleagues to report student achievement and opportunities to learn to students, teachers, parents, policy makers, and the general public.


    New York City Standards: 

    5. Scientific Thinking

    A. Frames questions to distinguish cause and effect; and identifies or controls variables.

    B. Uses concepts from Science Standards 1 to 4 to explain a variety of observations and phenomena.

    C. Uses evidence from reliable sources to develop descriptions, explanations, and models; and makes appropriate adjustments and improvements.


    8. Scientific Investigation

    A. Demonstrates scientific competence by completing a controlled experiment.

    B. Demonstrates scientific competence by completing fieldwork.

    C. Demonstrates scientific competence by completing a design.