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Why is Carbon an Important Element?

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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Students explore the carbon cycle and the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. Students create and compare graphs of carbon dioxide and temperature data from one local (Mauna Loa, Hawaii) meteorological station and one NASA global data set. These graphs, as well as a global vegetation map and an atmospheric wind circulation patterns diagram, are used as evidence to support the scientific claims they develop through their analysis and interpretation.

Activity takes two class periods.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
The effects of changes in Earth's energy system are often not immediately apparent.
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2.7 Effects of changes in Earth's energy system .

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
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G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:A) Questioning
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A) Questioning.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
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F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
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D) Flow of matter and energy.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

About the Science

  • Data set in this exercise only goes to 1998. The educator may want to supplement this with more recent data, see links below or check the references in the educator's guide.
  • Important learning about correlations and causation.

About the Pedagogy

  • This student graphing exercise allows students to interpret graphs, analyze data, and reach their own conclusions.
  • Project/team approach to the lesson with computer-based graphing exercises, mind maps, and group discussions and presentations.
  • Educator's guide is clearly written.
  • Student materials are well organized.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Complete activity, easy to use for educators and students.

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