Changing Planet: Grapevines and Drought (Climate Change and Your Breakfast!)


Students explore weather and climate data and correlate this to the production of maple syrup.


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Created by NESTA/Windows to the Universe team members Missy Holzer, Jennifer Bergman, and Roberta Johnson with adaptations from an Earth lab activity

Grade level:


  • Introduction: 10 minutes
  • Parts I-IV: 60 minutes
  • Application and Extension: 45 minutes
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will learn how to evaluate weather data and climate data.
  • Students will explore the limitations of using one set of data to answer research questions.
  • Students will collect and interpret data, and interpret graphs and maps in order to draw conclusions.
Lesson format:

Internet data gathering, graphing, and data interpretation and analysis

Standards Addressed:

  • 5-8: Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry
  • 5-8: Content Standard D: Structure of the Earth System, Earth History
  • All levels: History and Nature of Science: Science as a Human Endeavor, Nature of Science, History of Science
  • All levels: Science and Technology Standard: Understanding about Science and Technology
  • All levels: Science in Personal and Social Perspective Standard
  • All levels: Assessment Standard B: The Ability to Communicate Effectively about Science


  1. For background information on how climate change is affecting crop production watch Changing Planet: Grapevines and Drought. Also explore these topics on the Windows to the Universe website at the links listed below.
  2. Gather the materials needed for each part of the lesson, and print out the student worksheet. After viewing the Changing Planet episode for this lesson, ask the students how climate change may affect other crops. They will likely mention that drought may affect crop production, as will rising temperatures. Tell students that in this lesson they will explore how weather and climate is important to the production of one of their favorite breakfast foods, maple syrup. Ask students if they know how maple syrup is produced and whether or not maple trees in their neighborhood can produce the sap needed to make maple syrup.
  3. Distribute the worksheet for this lesson. In Part I, students explore the maple syrup industry as well as the distribution of maple trees in North America. Next, in Part II, students explore climate and weather data for one location in a maple syrup producing state, Vermont. Note that students are only exploring the data for Burlington Vermont. Challenge students to think about microclimates in the state and how the data might vary across the state. The links below and in the lesson provide access to data from other locations in Vermont and other maple syrup producing states. (Please note that all links needed for the lesson are listed below in Other resources.)
  4. Part III of the lesson has students work with maple syrup production numbers over the time period used in the other parts of the lesson, and students are asked to compare the yield per tap with the number of maple sap collecting days already identified. Throughout this lesson students are only using temperature data to understand what factors influence the production of maple syrup. Other factors will also influence the quantity of maple sap collected. For instance, snow depth data is not provided, although snow cover may extend the maple sugar season. Challenge students to consider other factors not addressed in this lesson such as ground temperature, consecutive days of cold or warm days mixed in with the days that have necessary temperatures, etc.
  5. Part IV again asks students to consider the geographic range of the maple tree. First they use a pollen viewer to look 21,000 years into the past, and then they use a tree atlas to make predictions about the future habitat of the sugar maple tree. Students will need access to information on the last ice age in North America. Assist students by pointing them to appropriate websites or textbook pages to see the extent of the glaciation during this period and up to the end of the ice age.
  6. In the Application section, students are asked to synthesize the entire lesson and hypothesize what will happen to the maple syrup production in the future. Encourage students to consider additional pieces of data that may help their arguments, and if possible, locate these datasets for them to explore. In the Extension, students are asked to consider how another crop will respond to climate change. In sticking with the theme of breakfast foods, suggest that students explore other crops used to make their favorite breakfast. If they are unsure of what crops that would include, ask them to find out by looking on the containers that hold their breakfast food. Once students finish the Extension ask them to report their findings to the class, and then have the class design a breakfast menu for the year 2100.


As students complete each part of the lesson, check for understanding by leading a class discussion (each team of students should report their findings). Use the differences in their findings to encourage students to share their methods in data collection and interpretation. Assess the quality and thoroughness of student responses to the Application and Extension challenges.


Always use safe classroom and laboratory practices.


Store unused materials for future use.


  • The condition of global food production and global food reserves is an important issue affecting all 7 billion of us living on this planet, and must be addressed as our climate changes. Ask students to explore this topic from a social, historical, and economic perspective, and then host a mini-student summit to discuss the issues related to sustaining our food supplies.
  • With global climate change, there will be "winners" and "losers" in crop production and in the relocation of habitats of various tree species. For example, students knowledgeable about the role of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis will think that all plants will thrive in a climate warmed by the addition of carbon dioxide, but in reality there are carbon dioxide tolerance thresholds for most plants. Visit other lessons in the Changing Planet series to assist students in understanding the challenges of how organisms, both plants and animals, will respond to global climate change.


There is in some parts of New England a kind of tree...whose juice that weeps out of its incision, if it be permitted slowly to exhale away the excess moisture, doth congeal into a sweet and saccharine substance. Robert Boyle

Philosophical Works (1663)

Clearly, maple syrup production has a long and important history. It has important cultural significance in Canada (one need only to remember the leaf shown on the country's flag), the U.S. (where a scene of sap collection is even shown on Vermont's state quarter) and even in places you might not think of right away like Japan and South Korea. Plus maple syrup is just plain delicious - whether on pancakes, oatmeal, pie, ice cream, or even on chicken and waffles!

Maple syrup production is also known as sugaring and the process for production is fairly simple. Sap is collected from maple trees and then water is removed mostly by boiling the sap. For true maple syrup, nothing else is added and nothing besides water is removed. Maple syrup is usually made from the sap of the sugar, red or black maple trees.

Between 30-40 gallons of sap are required to create one gallon of delicious syrup. The syrups are classified into grades. Canada and the U.S. use slightly different grades that are determined by the syrup's color and sugar versus water content.

There is a range of temperatures necessary for the collection of the sap used to make maple syrup. Maple sap drips out of a tap into the xylem layer of the tree. The only time of year when the xylem is rich in sucrose and the sap is drawn upward into the tree from the ground (i.e., the sap is running or flowing) is when nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are warm (above freezing). Sap flow will stop when buds expand on the maple and leaves develop.

Sap collection usually begins around February 1st at the earliest and the collection season ends usually in mid-April. It is important to remember that it is not only daytime and nighttime temperatures that determine maple sap collection periods. Excessively deep snow cover can actually hinder the collection of maple sap, but in general consistent and shallow snow cover will extend the collection period. There have been years that have been so snowy, that sugar producers in Maine have reported collecting sap as late as the first week of May.

Those harvesting maple syrup (and many other crops like grapes) are concerned about changing lengths of seasons brought about by a warming global climate and the impacts shorter sap collection seasons will have on overall production. In this lesson, your students will explore changes in the production of maple syrup and decide if you'll need to find something else to put on your pancakes and waffles!



Last modified October 11, 2011 by Jennifer Bergman.

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA