Educator Guide - Carbon Cycle
Summary and Learning Objectives
Students engage with 8 resources (readings, interactives, videos, modeling activities) to investigate the cycling of carbon dioxide among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. Through a series of learning experiences, students view short video clips, graph, model, and analyze CO2 data, and work with several interactive modeling online resources.
How do imbalances in the carbon cycle affect global climate?
After completing this investigation, students will be able to:
- Describe the cycling of carbon through the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.
- Describe the relationship between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperatures over time.
- Construct a model of different carbon pathways within the carbon cycle.
The resources in this Earth Science Investigation are linked together to form a coherent learning sequence using a four-step process.
Investigation Steps and Overview
Step 1. Ask Questions
In this phase of the investigation students identify and discuss the issue or problem and begin to gather background information.
Time required: 80 minutesOverview
In this step of the investigation, use a static visualization students analyze long-term climate date to examine the relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature change over different temporal time scales. They then read an article that introduces them to the nature of greenhouse gases, carbon sinks and sources, and elements of the carbon cycle to prepare them for the Carbon Cycle game. In the Carbon Cycle game, students travel through the carbon cycle and attempt to get to all the places that carbon is stored in the interactive map.Resources
1.1 - CLEAN resource: Temperature and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere over the past 400,000 years 1.2 - NOAA resource: Basics of the Carbon Cycle and the Greenhouse Effect 1.3 - CLEAN resource: The Carbon Cycle Game
Step 2. Plan Approach to Inquiry
In this step of the unit students develop their approach to answering the question developed in the first step of the investigation.
Time required: 80 minutesOverview
Students use visual cues from NASA maps to explore the yearly cycle of CO2 fluctuations in the North and South Hemispheres and then play the Poker Chip game to explore carbon pools and fluxes with an interactive modeling resource.Resources
2.1 - CLEAN resource: A Year in the Life of CO2 2.2 - CLEAN resource: Poker Chip Game: Carbon Pools and Fluxes
Step 3. Conduct Investigation
In this step, students conduct their own investigation and prepare to communicate ideas. Students watch two videos the examine the correlations between CO2 concentrations and global temperatures at different time scales and how changes in Earth's orbit can affect our climate over time. Then they use a visualization to find and quantify the changes in climate in their state/region compared to other locations on Earth.
Time required: 80 minutesOverview
Students watch two videos the examine the correlations between CO2 concentrations and global temperatures at different time scales and how changes in Earth's orbit can affect our climate over time. Then they use an interactive to find find and quantify the changes in climate in their state compared to other locations on Earth.
3.1a - CLEAN resource: A Year in the Life of CO2 3.1b - CLEAN resource: CO2 and the Ice Core Record 3.2 - CLEAN resource: Global Anomalies Graphing Tool
Step 4. Communicate Outcomes
In the final step of the investigation, students do a final project and communicate their results using interactive models to construct experiments and generate data.
Time required: 90 minutesOverview
In this investigation, students do a summative performance assessment to communicate their results and conclusions using interactive and physical models to illustrate the cycling of carbon in Earth systems. They use an interactive visualization to produce a single carbon pathway and then combine their results on a large poster in their classroom to construct a visual model of the carbon cycle.Resource
4.1 - CLEAN resource: The Carbon Cycle Interactive
Time Required to Complete the Investigation
3 - 5 hours (or four to seven 45-minute periods) of class time to complete all the activities listed in this investigation. Teachers may want to choose a subset of the activities listed here, or substitute one they deem more appropriate at any point. The sequence can be done in 3 hours or less if a proportion of the activities, particularly readings and short videos, are assigned as homework instead of done in class.
Three Dimensional Learning
The standards listed below are composed of three distinct and equally important dimensions of science learning. These dimensions combine to form each standard, and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. This three-dimensional learning system is designed to provide a research-based, up to date set of science standards designed to give educators the flexibility to design classroom learning experiences that stimulate students' interest in science and help them become science literate and informed citizens. By engaging with multiple learning experiences that use all three dimensions over time, students move toward mastery of the target performance expectations listed below.
Elements of 3D LearningDisciplinary Core Ideas
- HS LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems: 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. (HS-LS2-5)
- HS.ESS2.D1 Weather and Climate: Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.(HS-ESS2- 6),(HS-ESS2-4)
- HS.ESS3.D3 Global Climate Change: Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities. (HS-ESS3-6)
- #1 Asking questions
- #2 Developing and using models
- #3 Planning and carrying out investigations
- #4 Analyzing and interpreting data
- #6 Constructing explanations
- #7 Engaging in argument from evidence
- #8 Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
- #1 Patterns
- #2 Cause and effect
- #4 Systems and system models
- #5 Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
- #7 Stability and Change
NOTE: The lessons and activities in this Earth Science Investigation are just one step in reaching the performance expectations listed below.
- HS-ESS2-6 Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
- HS-LS2-4 Use a mathematical representation to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of organisms in an ecosystem.
- Reading: Earth Observatory Carbon Cycle
- Reading: University of New Hampshire Carbon Cycle Background
- David Archer's University of Chicago lectures on The Carbon Cycle Dr. Archer is an expert on the Carbon Cycle. Under VIDEOS, click on Class Lectures. The lecture for chapter 8 - The Lungs of the Carbon Cycle - is especially relevant and interesting.