Finding a Garden Site That Represents Your Region
Exploring Microclimates

Level: Intermediate

4-6 outdoor thermometers


Overview: Which spot in your schoolyard best represents the official temperatures of your town? (This is one of the criteria for "official" Journey North gardens.) Explore different locations and gather data on temperatures. When you've figured out the best spot for your garden, you'll be ready to proclaim the arrival of spring!

Laying the Groundwork
What factors make up weather (and longer-term climate)? Which do you think is most important for plant growth? In this activity, you'll focus on temperature. Ask yourselves these questions:
    Tip: It may be easiest to measure the daily high temperature, which typically occurs during school hours: around 2:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon.
  • How can we decide which part of our schoolyard has temperatures most like the rest of the city/town?
  • What do we need to know first? How might we find the official temperature of town or of parts of the schoolyard?
  • Which temperatures should we record (e.g., high and low for a day, average per day, temperature at a certain time or times of day)?


1. Predict differences in schoolyard temperatures.
Draw a map of your school building and surrounding grounds. Do you think the temperature is the same everywhere on the school grounds? Explain your thinking. Which areas do you think might be cooler or warmer than others? Why? Mark these on your maps.

2. Go outside and take measurements.
A sample map of schoolgrounds
In small groups, take temperature readings in different locations. Record your findings. List three questions raised by your observations.

Ask yourselves, How can we make this a fair comparison? For instance, how can you be sure to measure the temperature for each location at the same height above the ground?

3. Look at your data.
Back in class, have students record their findings on the school map. How did they compare with class predictions? Discuss these questions:

  • What was the warmest place you found? Why do you think makes it so warm?
  • What was the coolest place you found? What do you think keeps it so cool?
  • How did these findings compare with your predictions?
  • Do you think these temperature differences will change over the course of a day? Why or why not?
  • What do you think makes temperatures different in places that are not far apart?

4. Discuss and define the word microclimate.
The areas you explored may have different microclimates. Brainstorm what this word might mean. (Try breaking it down into the words "micro" and "climate.") Next, verify the definition with a dictionary or local resource.

Microclimates can occur because certain natural and human-built features change local conditions. For instance,

  • trees produce cooling shade
  • a building can block wind
  • an open location will get direct sunlight
  • a location near a parking lot may heat up faster
  • a south-facing slope will heat up earlier in the spring
  • soil that gets rain runoff from a roof might stay cooler for longer in the spring

5. Compare your schoolyard's temperatures with today's official temperature.
As a class, find the official temperature of your city. Your local newpaper may list the high, low, and average temperature for the day. How do the temperature readings you found at your school compare with the official readings?

6. Choose your tulip garden site.
Ask, based on our microclimate study, which place do you think is most like the local official temperature? What evidence do we have? What questions do we have?

Before making a final decision on your site, look at Journey North's Planting Instructions to see how your choice meets the criteria. Use the Garden Site Selection Rubric to assess how well your proposed site fits the bill.

Digging Deeper: Keep an Eye on Temperatures
Once you've planted your garden, print out the temperature chart. Throughout the season, measure the high and low temperatures in your tulip garden. Use your local newspaper to find the same information for your town/city on a given day. Record all data on the chart. Discuss these questions as well as your own:

  • Are temperatures in your garden generally warmer or cooler than the temperatures reported in the newspaper?
  • If they are different, by how many degrees, on average, do they vary? Why do you think this is true?
  • How well do you think your garden represents the climate of your area? Explain your thinking.

Journaling Question

  • If a garden is planted in a warmer or colder microclimate than the local climate how might that affect plant growth, emergence, and blooming? Explain your answer.

Teachers: A Final Note
We recognize that you may have very few options available for a planting site. Therefore, if you are simply unable to plant your garden in an open area, please be sure to mention this next spring when you report from your site. Describe the microclimate of your garden and explain why you think this has affected your results.

National Science Education Standards

Science as Inquiry
Employ simple equipment/tools to gather data and extend senses. (K-4)

Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. (5-8)
Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation. (K-4)
Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. (5-8)

Physical Science
The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. (5-8)

Earth and Space Science
Weather changes from day to day and over the seasons. Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation. (K-4)

National Math Standards

Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement.
Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.