Changing Climates
Schoolyard Tulip Study Sheds Light

Level: Grades 5+

See Microclimate lessons, left.


NOTE: Conduct this activity in concert with or after students have explored microclimates in one of these lessons:

Overview: As students explore microclimates in your schoolyard, they'll begin to consider how climatic factors such as rainfall and temperatures affect when tulip plants emerge and bloom. (Tulips are particularly sensitive to temperature in the 3 to 4 weeks before blooming.) You can then help your class consider how our warming global climate could affect plant life cycles and, in turn, the animals that depend on them.

Laying the Groundwork
As you discuss the concept of microclimates, ask these questions:

  • How do you think different schoolyard microclimates will influence tulip plant growth, emergence, and bloom times?
  • What climatic factors do you think have the greatest impact on the timing of these life cycle stages?


  1. Select several schoolyard sites that appear to have different microclimates. Students should have compared temperatures, moisture, and other factors in several sites. (If not, do so now.)
  2. In the fall, plant one or more tulip bulbs in each location.
  3. Tip: It may be easiest to measure the daily high temperature, which typically occurs around 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.
    In the spring, gather data in each location. Always do this at the same time of day. For instance, take daily temperature readings. If practical, measure air and soil temperatures. Also use a probe or your hands to feel and describe soil moisture. Students might also choose to compare other climate factors, such as wind.
  4. Visually represent and compare data. For instance, students can make graphs to compare each factor (e.g., average weekly high temperatures) for each site. They can also overlay the dates of tulip blooms at each site.

Making Connections: Discussion and Journaling Questions

  • At which site did tulips bloom the earliest? The latest?
  • What factors seemed to affect bloom times?
  • What questions did this study raise?
  • How can we use this information to explain how a warming global climate might affect plant life cycles.
  • How do we think a warming climate might affect animals that depend on plants (for instance, pollinators)?

Find Answers Here

  • You'll find information to help you answer the last two questions on this page of our Climate Connections reading. >>