Chestnuts in the Classroom: An American Icon


In the 20th century, the American Chestnut was the dominant tree in the Appalachian forests of the eastern US, stretching from Mississippi to Maine. These enormous trees were nicknamed the Redwoods of the east. That changed drastically starting in the early 1900s with the appearance of a disease called chestnut blight which rapidly spread throughout the entire range. Learn about this iconic American tree and modern science-driven efforts to re-establish American Chestnut forests in the US.

20 – 90 minutes with modular lesson choices

Modular lesson choices that facilitates classroom activity as brief as 20 minutes, up to several class periods or homework.


Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, Biology, AP Biology, Forestry, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Environmental Studies, Molecular Biology, History, Social Studies

You will need:

Printed Paper maps

Digital map files

Online half-earth map

Chestnuts in the Classroom: An American Icon

Learning Objectives

  • Develop the ability to understand and interpret expert opinions
  • Using critical thinking, they consider genetically modified organisms from scientific and societal perspectives
  • Appreciate the complex structure of forest habitats to support biodiversity and gain appreciation of the culture and history of people’s perspectives on species and nature

Key Terms + Conditions

  • Disease threats and ecology
  • Extinction
  • Plant pathogens
  • Conservation recovery strategies
  • Biotechnology
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
  • Forest structure
  • Native restoration
  • Species range
  • Habitat

Top tips for Instructors

Consider assigning students to watch videos, take notes, and develop a list of questions prior to doing the activity in the lesson guide. Reading assignments may include: 

The American Chestnut is a great topic for engaging students in the connection between people, communities, culture, history, and nature.

The lesson resources prompt critical discussion of genetic engineering, its potential risks and benefits, particularly in conservation and ecological restoration.

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