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Carbon Cycle Game

Colorado Plateau Climate Science and Solutions Partnership, Northern Arizona University; Biological Sciences Curriculum Study

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In this interactive, regionally-relevant carbon cycle game, students are challenged to understand the role of carbon in global climate change. They imagine that they are carbon molecules and travel via different processes through carbon reservoirs on the Colorado Plateau (the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah). This game can be adapted to other regions.

Game takes about 40-60 minutes depending on age level and depth of discussion.

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

Energy Literacy

Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
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4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
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2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
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B) Changes in matter.
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

  • Educators may want to discuss the meaning of the terms carbonate ions, photosynthesis, reservoir, sink, and source in the carbon cycle, before students play the game.
  • Educators should be aware that research (Driver, Squire, Rushworth, & Wood-Robinson 1994) on student misconceptions indicates that students recognize the parts of this cycle but do not understand the connections among the spheres. To some students, each part of the cycle represents a new, not continuous, event - with matter being created or destroyed during those cause-and-effect events. This disjointed view of how carbon moves makes it difficult to apply the carbon cycle to environmental issues such as climate change.
  • A version of the game cards without the regionally-specific artwork is available for those teachers who want to adapt this resource to their own region.

About the Science

  • The game demonstrates the different forms of carbon, how it flows among different reservoirs, how long it stays in each reservoir and processes that change carbon from one form to another.
  • The residence time of carbon in the various reservoirs is not given and educator might have to supplement this information.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Excellent graphics on the game cards and posters will engage and interest students in the activity.
  • The game cards use simple text and images that will allow all students to participate.
  • This game is based on an online version (see http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/climate/carbon_cycle.html). However, the kinesthetic version is much more involving and leads to more interesting analysis.
  • While the game play itself does not provide any vehicle for inquiry, students will develop some important insight during the post-game analysis of their recording sheets.
  • Multiple opportunities for assessing student understanding are provided, spanning several different learning styles.
  • Educator might have to explain more terms for younger audiences, such as carbonate ions, photosynthesis.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The game cards and posters need to be printed out on card stock and poster paper.
  • The background materials and logistical outline are thorough and complete.

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