Ecosystem Services: What Do Trees Do for Us?

What Do Trees Do for Us?

Subject Area(s): Biosphere

Grade Level(s): Middle School

Author: Samuel Bonser, Grand Valley State University


Pacing Guide: 4-5 class periods

Day one: Engage lesson - half of the class period

Day two: Explore lesson

Day three: Explain lesson and group work from elaborate. Assign research homework

Day four- Continued group work


  • Students will identify relationships between human activity and the environment (trees).
  • Students will monitor the environment and analyze human impacts through the use of GLOBE and i-Tree technologies.
  • Students will analyze land use and human impact through research, and will work as a group to create a PowerPoint that highlights their research findings and will create recommendations for minimizing human impact on the environment.


Michigan Science Standards

Performance Expectations

  • MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
  • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
  • ESS3.D: Global Climate Change


Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Systems and System Models
  • Patterns

Science and Engineering Practice

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Analyzing and interpreting Data

Sam Bonser Video

Engage (20-30min):




Engage (20-30min):


  1. First, introduce this lesson by having the students get up from their seats and walk outside. The teacher will take the students to different types of trees around their schoolyard and have the students make observations. At each stop the teacher should ask some of these questions to the students and have a discussion about what they are thinking:
    1. What is the role of this tree in the ecosystem? Is the tree providing any ecosystem services? (examples: shade, habitat, oxygen, etc.)
      1. Note: Ecosystem services are the benefits humans receive from the ecosystem.
    2. Do you think this could be the oldest or youngest tree around the school, and why?
    3. What is the importance of this tree?
    4. What are some interesting things you notice that might be similar or different from other trees?
    5. After looking at 3-4 trees, ask students: What tree do you think has the largest impact on the environment?
      1. Potential formative assessment opportunity: The teacher should be taking mental or physical notes on students' understanding and previous background knowledge about trees. For example, if a student answers the first question by explaining that the tree is doing photosynthesis the teacher will understand that the student has a strong background knowledge of the topic and the teacher could go quicker through this part of the lesson.
    6. Indoor option: If the teacher does not have access to an outdoor area to look at trees the teacher can use cards with images of trees on them and ask the same questions about those trees, again creating a group discussion (see the example Tree Cards handout located at the end of the lesson).
  2. Wrap up this section of the lesson by telling the students that throughout this lesson we will discover how important each tree is to us. We will also try and help identify some negative impacts that happen to trees.

Explore (45-50min)

  1. Explain to the students that they will be solving the questions asked in the Engage section by physically taking measurements of trees.
  2. Go through measurement techniques and procedures following the GLOBE guidelines with the class.
    1. GLOBE Biosphere protocols
  3. Ask students to partner up or get into groups 3-4 students making sure each group has one student who has a phone and is willing to use it. Allow one student from each pair or group to use their phones to download the GLOBE Observer app.
  4. Show the students this quick video for detailed instructions on how to use the app properly.
      2. For FAQ’s about the GLOBE Observer app related to technology requirements, student safety, and more, visit FAQ - GLOBE Observer -
        1. Offline option: If there is no phone or app access the teacher can have the students only fill out the Tree Data Collection handout without using the app and use the GLOBE Tree Height Protocol for measuring tree height to fill in the tree height measurements on the handout.
          1. GLOBE Tree Height Protocol:
      3. Demonstrate to the students how to properly calculate the circumference of the tree trunk.
          1. Note: The teacher should look over the GLOBE PowerPoint and Tree Circumference field guide to familiarize themselves with the protocols
  1. Explain that the students will need to determine the tree species. The students can download an app called Forest Tree Identification. The teacher should explain to the students how to use the app.
    1. Forest Tree Identification App:
      2. The app has multiple different ways to find what you are looking for, but the best way is to go through the leaf type where the student will select what leaf type looks the closest and the app will continue to ask more questions that progressively get more detailed to eventually come to a tree option.
      3. Note: There is also a Trees of Michigan Field Guide (Tree Identification Guides) book that can be purchased to help with this part of the lesson instead of the app
  2. Explain that the class will go outside and measure trees using the GLOBE app and recording the tree height, tree location, tree circumference, and what type of tree it is. One student should be in charge of the phone and using the GLOBE app while the other student(s) should be filling out the information into the Tree Data Collection handout for each tree. Students should then be put into pairs or groups and try to collect data for at least three different trees around their schoolyard (or the area the teacher chooses to observe).

Note: Depending on the number of trees the teacher can assign students to specific trees

  1. As the students collect data the students should input the data into the GLOBE app as well as into the Tree Data Collection handout.
    1. Note: if no phones are being used students will only input data into the Tree Data Collection handout.
  2. Observe the students throughout this Explore activity and make sure the students are following proper protocol when collecting tree data.
  3. After the student’s finish with their data collections, the students should go back to the class and each pair or group should go to the i-Tree website

And choose i-Tree Mytree. This will ask more questions regarding the trees the students measured. The students should repeat this for all three of their trees. The students will fill out questions in the Tree Data Collection handout for each tree with the data they got from the i-Tree website.

    1. For questions regarding i-Tree go to
  1. After the students finish with i-Tree they should answer the last reflection questions in the Tree Data Collection handout.
  2. Explain that they will have a class discussion about their findings once everyone has finished. 
    1. Note: If individual students are unable to access i-Tree the teacher should put select student tree measurements into i-Tree to facilitate the discussion in the explain section.

Explain (25min)

  1. Have students input their data to a shared computer, or report their data to the teacher and the teacher can input each pair or group's i-Tree data into a shared computer where the teacher can display the whole class's data altogether.
  2. Next, the pairs or groups should be called on to share and explain what they noticed with their data collection and their i-Tree results.
  3. After all groups have shared the teacher will ask the students to share some of their answers to the reflection questions in the Tree Data Collection handout. This can develop into a group discussion asking for multiple students to give answers and compare their findings and understandings.
    1. Questions to ask the students:
      1. Before the i-Tree results, what was your group's prediction for which tree was going to be the most beneficial to the environment and why? Were you right?
      2. Based on the data collected how do you feel about trees and the importance of them? Students should use i-Tree to help with the answer.
      3. What statistic or observation surprised you the most when it comes to trees and the impact they have on the environment?
      4. Are there any trends you notice with your data?
      5. Do you think humans are affecting the trees and environment? If so, what impacts do humans have on trees (consider positive and negative impacts)?
  4. After the discussion, the teacher should collect the packets from the students and groups to assess the students' understanding of the topic. 
    1. Potential formative assessment opportunity: Take notes of what the students are understanding from the data and explore activity.
  5. Optional: Taking student learning a step further, extending the lesson to grades 9-12: link the Global Carbon Cycle Model to trees 
    1. First, give a quick introduction to the carbon cycle using the main image of the Global Carbon Cycle Model.
      1. Global Carbon Cycle Model
        1. Note: look over the GLOBE  Introduction to Carbon Cycle Lesson to familiarize yourself with how to use the model.
          1. GLOBE Introduction to Carbon Cycle Lesson

    1. Click on the model run page and ask students to make predictions on:
      1. What will happen when fossil fuel (FF) combustion increases
      2. What will happen when Deforestation (D) increases
      3. What will happen to the plant flux when FF or D increases or decreases
      4. What will happen to the plant pool when FF or D increase or decrease
    2. Students should write each of their predictions down on paper.
    3. After each prediction, the teacher will run through the model revealing what actually happens. Then have students discuss with partners what they notice, if their predictions were correct and if something was surprising to them.  Next, the teacher will walk through what the graph means in relation to the carbon cycle and if this is a positive or negative thing for our environment.
    4. Optional Lesson Extension: The teacher can elect to go into more detail about the carbon cycle and include photosynthesis, oceans, and other processes, events, or details the teacher might want the student to know.
    5. Offline option: If the teacher cannot access the Global Carbon Cycle Model the teacher can display the Global Carbon Cycle Diagram and work through it emphasizing the trees, fossil fuels, deforestation effects, plant pool, and human impact. The teacher can still have students do #8-10.
      1. Global Carbon Cycle Diagram

Elaborate (90min-135min with 30min of completed homework)

Day 1:

  1. Explain to the students that they will be using what they have previously learned about trees, and the carbon cycle to help analyze what is happening in areas around Michigan. The students will form groups of 3-4 students and be assigned a particular area in Michigan to analyze the changes of land over time.
  2. Assign groups and give them their specific Michigan locations
    1. Examples: Grand Rapids, Holland, Detroit, Traverse City, and Mackinac Island
  3. Pass out the Environmental impact PowerPoint Outline and the Environmental Impact Presentation Rubric to each student and go both with the class explaining that they will create a PowerPoint presentation. Explain to the students that it should focus on what has happened to this area and how that affects the carbon cycle, plant pool, plant flux, and anything else previously talked about in the Global Carbon Cycle Model.
  4. Have students use their computers to go to Google Earth Engine and watch their assigned location change over time.
    1. Google Earth Engine
  5. After the students have finished watching the Google Earth Engine timelapse, explain to the students that they will need to do some research before working with their group members. The students will be assigned to do their own research on their assigned area. The students should focus on filling in as much of the Environmental Impact PowerPoint Outline as possible when researching. Their main focus should be on any information that might be vital to understanding how this development happened and try to find possible solutions for the decrease in trees.

Day 2:

  1. The students will bring in their research, meet with their group and begin to put the PowerPoint presentation together.
  2. The teacher will then collect the PowerPoint presentations and grade the students on their PowerPoints using a rubric.
    1. Optional: Students can present their presentations (added class period)


  • Engage:
    • take mental or physical notes on students' understanding and previous background knowledge about trees. This will allow the teacher to have an understanding of how the pace of the lesson should go based on the student’s background knowledge.
  • Explore:
    • Observe the students throughout the tree measuring activity.
    • Collect the Tree Data Collection handout after the discussion in the Explain lesson. This will allow the teacher to assess the student’s and groups' understanding of the topic and findings.
  • Explain:
    • Take notes of what the students are understanding from the data and explore the activity.
  • Elaborate:

Evaluate the student’s presentations using the Environmental Impact Presentation Rubric.


  •  i-Tree website


Tree Cards:

Page last modified October 9, 2021