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TERC, Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (SERC)


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Mathematics

Resource Types

  • Videos, 2 minutes, 49 seconds
  • Presentation Slides
  • Videos, 47 seconds
  • Interactive Media
  • Videos, 45 seconds
  • Experiments
  • Worksheets

Regional Focus

Global, North America


PDF, Microsoft Powerpoint

Trees and Paleoclimate Lab

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  • In this three-part lab, students learn about the study of ancient climates through a variety of interactive activities, short readings, videos, comprehension questions, and a hands-on lab.
  • Students will discover what single-celled forams can teach us about past climates through isotopic analysis and the final pollen and paleoclimate lab activity will get them digging in the dirt and applying their knowledge.
  • Students will also gain a first-hand understanding of data collection, research, and the scientific method.
Teaching Tips


  • This resource is a great way to learn about how scientists "know what they know" and how they draw conclusions about climate variation over thousands and millions of years in the past.
  • The lab activity is a hands-on activity to get students moving and working together.

Additional Prerequisites

  • The lab activity requires materials such as plates, tweezers, soil, and beads.
  • Students should be familiar with terms like climate, sediment, and weather and know how to read a 3-axis graph.
  • The slideshow presentation in part A cannot be made full size on the screen but it can be downloaded as a MS PowerPoint file.


  • Part A includes optional extension resources such as articles and videos on ice cores, tree rings, and other natural recorders of climate variability for students who want to learn more about paleoclimatology.
  • Although considered optional extensions, the videos at the end of part A follow scientists in the field and could help students draw similarities between their lab activity and the work scientists do.
  • Chemistry classes could use this lab for lessons about isotopes, atomic structure, mass spectrometry, or practical applications of chemistry.
  • Other resources to consider on this topic include this resource on studying past climates through tree rings and this resource on looking at future climates.
Scientist Notes

In this resource, students will investigate past climate using proxy data, which is useful to model future climate projections. There are no scientific misconceptions in the resource. Above all, this resource is recommended for teaching.

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-4 Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
      • HS-LS4-5 Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
  • Common Core Math Standards (CCSS.MATH)
    • Statistics & Probability: Interpreting Categorical & Quantitative Data (9-12)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSS.ID.B.5 Summarize categorical data for two categories in two-way frequency tables. Interpret relative frequencies in the context of the data (including joint, marginal, and conditional relative frequencies). Recognize possible associations and trends in the data.
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