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Tree Ring Model

David Steer (steer@uakron.edu) and Kyle Gray (krg10@uakron.edu), University of Akron
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. GEO-0506518.


While working in groups to facilitate peer tutoring, students manipulate a hands-on, physical model to better comprehend the natural variations of tree-ring width and their uses for determining past climatic conditions. Students use the model as a real-world data sample, collect direct observations from the specimen, and infer past climate conditions.

Learning Goals

Students will understand:

Context for Use

This model works best during units on global climate change and can be used to demonstrate one method that climatologists use to determine past climates. Ideally students each have their own specimens, however one board can be used with up to four students at a time. Regardless of the number of students per board, working within a group allows students to instruct their peers on how to interpret the data.

Teaching Materials

Tree Ring
Each student model consists of one board cut such that the center of the tree is visible (a 1 x 12 pine board cut width-wise into pieces approximately 8 cm wide works well).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students determine the age of their specimen by counting the number of rings visible on the end of the board starting from the center. To foster inquiry, do not explain how trees produce rings or why they indicate. Some groups will count each light and dark band as separate rings. Some groups will count all of the rings from one side of the board to the other without identifying the center.

After students have counted the rings on their specimen, address how trees produce rings and how to properly age the specimen. Also have students discuss factors that might affect ring width. Have student reexamine their block of wood and identify places where the rings are close together and places where they are farther apart. Discuss these patterns and what conclusions can be drawn about the climatic variations experienced by that tree.



Several different assessment techniques can be used depending on time and the needs of your class.

References and Resources

Archived tree-ring activities:



Resource Type

Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration, Activities

Grade Level

Middle (6-8), High School (9-12)



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