Connecting Precipitation and Tree Ring Data


Instructional Level: Middle School - Earth Science

Lesson Plan: Dendroclimatology

Driving Question(s):

How can the subject of dendroclimatology be used to reveal historical changes in a climate?


MD E-Lit: 3A 3B


The following is a summative evaluation activity.  Dendrochronological analysis of a cross section from an American chestnut and matching precipitation data from the NOAA Climate at a Glance website will provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate skills with technology, data analysis, and communicating ideas in a correlative manner.

Photo:  Cross section of an American chestnut illustrating looping worm hole at upper center.  Mr. Shelby Sawyers.



Students will:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to identify and describe if a correlation exists between annual precipitation and tree ring growth using skills and tools developed through the activities in Dendroclimatology.

Lesson Materials:

Computers with Excel

Calibrate ImageJ software worksheet

Precipitation Data Collection instruction sheet

Graphing the climate and tree ring data instructions sheet

Graphing rubric

American chestnut cross section

Summative Assessment 


Summative Assessment Tasks:

  1. Calibrate the Image J software using the Calibrate ImageJ software worksheet.
  2. Measure the tree rings from an American chestnut cross section using ImageJ and download the data in Excel.​  

Important Note: The cross section was taken from the American chestnut, depicted below, and was felled on September 8, 2014.  Photos by Barbara Knapp.








3.  Collect corresponding precipitation data from the NOAA Climate at a Glance website, starting in 1950 and ending in 2014.  Save the data in an Excel file.
4.  For reference here is a set of Sample data.
5.  Graph both sets of data using the Graphing Tree Ring and Precipitation Data worksheet.
6.  Complete the American Chestnut Summative Assessment to become a Dendroclimatologist!
Summative Assessment:
Describe how the study of tree rings, precipitation data, and the use of technological applications (like ImageJ) can provide clues to past climate conditions.  Describe a scenario where the skills you have learned can help our society become better informed about climate and the value of native trees like the American chestnut and what happens if that historical record disappears.


Measuring and graphing tree ring data

Explaining correlation between NOAA precipitation data and tree ring measurements


National Park Service,

NOAA Climate at a Glance website, 

NGSS Common Core Connections:


Standards: MS. Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Organisms

Performance Expectations: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

Name and NGSS code/citation
Specific Connections to Classroom Activity
Science & Engineering Practices

Planning and carrying out investigations

Obtaining, Evaluating and communicating information

Measuring and graphing tree ring data

Explaining correlation between NOAA precipitation data and tree ring measurements

Crosscutting Concepts

Patterns, Cause & Effect, Stability and Change

Scale, Proportion and Quantity

Measuring and graphing tree ring data

Explaining correlation between NOAA precipitation data and tree ring measurements

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-LS1.B Growth and Development of Organisms

MS-LS1.B Genetic factors as well as local conditions affect the growth of the adult plant

Inferring effect of varying amounts of water on tree growth

Common Core State Standards (CCSS):


Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.


Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Environmental Literacy Goals (E-Lit):


Analyze and explain the movement of matter and energy through interactions of earth systems.


Analyze and explain the influence of this movement on...the distribution of life.

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