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Understanding the Carbon Cycle: A Jigsaw Approach

David Hastings, SERC - On the Cutting Edge Collection

This is a jigsaw activity in which students are assigned to research one step out of five in the geochemical process stages of the organic carbon cycle. Students then teach their step in cross-step groups until everyone understands all five process stages.

Activity takes one to two class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 11 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2f
Biosphere drives the global carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3e
Natural processes of CO2 removal from atmosphere is slow; Long residence time of some GHG
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4g

Energy Literacy

Energy is a quantity that is transferred from system to system.
Other materials addressing:
1.1 Energy is a quantity.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
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

  • This is an activity that can be used to introduce the carbon cycle.
  • It would be useful to include other background resources, both for use by educators and also by students in their research.
  • Students may need some suggestions about where to begin their part of the research.

About the Science

  • Sole science reference is a textbook; ideally the educator provides additional sources of background information on the carbon cycle.
  • Addresses terrestrial and organic carbon cycle processes at the biosphere and geosphere levels.
  • Topics included in the activity are photosynthesis, respiration, death, decomposition, and feeding.

About the Pedagogy

  • Jigsaw method is a constructive way to illustrate how these concepts are interconnected.
  • Materials provided include a wide range of extension activities and a poster that could be displayed after the lesson to reinforce retention.
  • Activity emphasizes the integration of concepts.
  • Part of the lesson involves students learning how to perform research and compiling their own information to report back to the group.
  • Jigsaw format is suitable for a variety of learning styles.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very low-tech; easy for students to use in any classroom setting.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS2-6: Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

HS-LS2-5: Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS2.D2:Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.

HS-LS2.B3:Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle, in which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 11

Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C3.4:Using the concept of orders of magnitude allows one to understand how a model at one scale relates to a model at another scale.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C5.1:The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

HS-C6.2:The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.4:Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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