Trees: Recorders of Climate Change

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In this activity, learners are introduced to tree rings by examining a cross section of a tree, also known as a “tree cookie.” They discover how tree age can be determined by studying the rings and how ring thickness can be used to deduce times of optimal growing conditions. Next they investigate simulated tree rings by applying the scientific method to explore how climatic conditions varied during the Little Ice Age. Use this activity to begin discussions on global warming and climate change. This lesson guide includes background information and handouts. Note: cost of materials does not include cost of purchasing "tree cookies."

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Overhead projector
  • Overhead transparency of tree rings (page 5)
  • Copies of simulated tree cores (page 6-7)
  • Copies of Student Page
  • Tree "cookies" [Contact a local tree trimming service and ask for cuttings or order tree cross-sections from a classroom supply company]
  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Metric rulers (mm)
  • Pencils


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth's History
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Human Impact
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Measurement
      • Rate
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, 2005

Funding Sources:

  • NCAR Strategic Initiative
  • NCAR Opportunity Fund
  • NASA
  • Friends of UCAR