Southeastern Forests and Climate Change

Southeastern Forests and Climate Change

Southeastern Forests and Climate Change (E-Unit)   Free Add to cart

Project Learning Tree’s Southeastern Forests and Climate Change e-unit is designed for educators seeking to teach high school students about climate change impacts on forest ecosystems, the role of forests in sequestering carbon, and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to changing climatic conditions.


  • 14 experiential activities. Six activities are applicable nationwide, not just to southeastern forests, and guidance is provided to easily adapt the other eight activities to any region.
  • Student-friendly introductory videos
  • Downloadable student worksheets and teacher pages
  • Focus on STEM
  • Academic standards correlations for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
  • Connections to other academic subjects such as agriculture, social studies, and English language arts
  • Regional adaptations for Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri developed by PLT’s State Coordinators.



Activities in this e-unit build on basic concepts about climate, the forest carbon cycle, forest ecosystems, and genetics. With its application of climate change to forest ecosystems and management, this e-unit is best suited for use by life science, biology, agriculture, and environmental science teachers. The activities are designed for students in grades 9 through 12, though can be easily adapted for middle school or college students.

Stepping through Climate Science

This activity provides an overview of the connections between forests and climate. Students create a timeline of climate science over the past 200 years and gather information from U.S. Forest Service video about climate mitigation and adaptation strategies for forests.

Clearing the Air

Students learn about the scientific evidence supporting climate change, use this information to evaluate and improve conclusions some people might draw about climate change, and participate in a role-play to negotiate solutions. Through this activity, students explore the nature of science and better understand why there are various perspectives about climate change.

Atlas of Change

Students use the online Climate Change Atlas from the US Forest Service to explain the effects of climate change on the future distribution of suitable habitats for forest types, tree species, and bird species in the southeastern US.

The Changing Forests

In small groups, students learn about research that is helping forest managers monitor and respond to climate change using new tools and management techniques.

Managing Forest for Change

Students explore the connection between forests, climate change impacts and management strategies for creating resilient forests. Students draw these connections in a system diagram, a tool that helps them see the system.

Mapping Seed Sources

Students use growth data from loblolly pine forests to identify genetically different populations and project where trees with certain characteristics are likely to thrive in changing climatic conditions.

Carbon on the Move

Students imagine they are a carbon atom and take part in a simulation that allows them to cycle through biological and physical systems. Group work and class discussions allow students to better understand carbon pools, quantities, fluxes, and residence time–with an emphasis on how human activities can affect where carbon goes.

Counting Carbon

Students measure trees near their school and calculate the amount of carbon stored in individual trees. Students compare the carbon sequestration potential for land-use types in their state, compare this to the amount of carbon released by human activities, and then discuss forests’ ability to sequester atmospheric carbon.

The Real Cost

Through a simulated shopping activity, students learn about life cycle assessments and the potential impact of their consumer choices on the environment. They explore questions such as: What factors do we use to make decisions about the products we buy? What are the hidden environmental costs of everyday items? Who should pay for these hidden costs?

Adventures in Life Cycles Assessment

By performing a play through group presentations, students investigate life cycle assessment (LCA) data for three types of outdoor dining furniture (plastic resin, cast aluminum, and pine) and make conclusions about relative impact of the products on global climate change.

Life Cycle Assessment Debate

After a debate where students compare products, students develop a set of life cycle questions that can be used to guide their consumer choices.

The Carbon Puzzle

In this group activity, students assess a series of facts to understand how to manage plantation forests to maximize the removal of atmospheric carbon and practice cooperative learning and graph interpretation skills.

Future of Our Forests

Student teams review what they have learned in this module by compiling a report of the future of forests in Southeast US. Students can share their knowledge by writing a letter to their state or county forester, city arborist, a local newspaper, community leaders, or other audiences that are relevant in your area.

Starting a Climate Service-Learning Project

This activity provides guidance for students to plan an environmental action project related to forests and climate change solutions in their community.


This e-unit was produced in partnership with the University of Florida and PINEMAP—a regional education, research, and extension program focused on southern pine management and climate change funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture[VB2] .

For instructional resources and professional development tailored to your state’s standards and environment, contact your state PLT Coordinator  





“I especially appreciated the lack of bias in the module. I mean forests were not always portrayed as the ‘savior of the climate’. A diversity of perspectives were included.”

Middle School Science Teacher, Arkansas


“The activities help make the research questions meaningful, and the videos with graduate students help convey the relevance on current scientific endeavors.” 

PLT Facilitator, Florida


“This activity [Stepping through Climate Science] not only introduces climate change, but also reviews how scientific evidence from different sources over time leads to new discoveries and further research. This evidence can also create new governmental policy or change outdated policy.”

Environmental Science and AP Environmental Science Teacher, Florida