CLEAN > Teaching Climate and Energy Science > Earth Systems Investigations > Ecosystems and Carbon Cycle > Investigation Steps > 1. Ask Questions
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Step 1: Ask Questions

In this step of the unit, students identify and discuss the issue or problem to be studied and begin to gather background information.

Time required: 2 class periods

Elements of 3D Learning

Science and Engineering Practices
1 Asking questions
8 Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Cross-cutting Concepts
1. Patterns
7. Stability and Change
Disciplinary Core Ideas
HS.ESS3.D3 Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

Step 1.1 - Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide from Mauna Loa


Featured Resource - Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide from Mauna Loa

Type: Static Visualization

Science Standards: See this page

Learning Goal: Engage student curiosity concerning the annual fluctuation of CO2 concentrations in Earth's atmosphere over time.

Summary: Students analyze long-term climate date to examine the relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature change over different temporal time scales.

Teaching Strategy and Directions
  1. Show students the Mauna Loa CO2 graph and ask for observations. What trends do they see?

    Sample questions to use with this activity:
    1. How does the concentration of CO2 change over time?
    2. What do you think might be causing the annual cycle to have a zig-zag shape?
    3. What other observations can you make about this graph?
    Note: As an alternate, more hands-on, activity students can graph the data from Mauna Loa as an introduction. See: Carbon Dioxide Exercise for a full set of instructions.

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Step 1.2 - CO2 Sources, Sinks, and Cycles


Featured Resource - Basics of the Carbon Cycle and the Greenhouse Effect.

Type: Reading

Science Standards:

Learning Goal: Introduce students to the nature of greenhouse gases, carbon sinks and sources, and elements of the carbon cycle.

Summary: Students analyze long-term climate date to examine the relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature change over different temporal time scales.

Teaching Strategy and Directions
  1. Students read the article and respond to questions. Sample questions to use with this activity:

    1. Differentiate between a greenhouse Gas (GHG) and a non-GHG. Name the four most important GHGs.
    2. Name the three main reservoirs carbon atoms travel to and from in the carbon cycle.
    3. Name the two major processes that move carbon dioxide between biosphere (plants) and the atmosphere.

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Step 1.3 - Explore the Carbon Cycle Interactive


Featured Resource - Interactive Carbon Cycle

Type: Interactive Visualization

Science Standards: See this page

Learning Goal: Engage student curiosity concerning the annual fluctuation of CO2 concentrations in Earth's atmosphere over time.

Summary: Students analyze long-term climate date to examine the relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature change over different temporal time scales.

Teaching Strategy and Directions

  1. Explain to students that they will engage with an interactive to investigate aspects of one of the most important dynamic agents of change on Earth: the carbon cycle.
  2. Direct students to click on the categories of carbon storage depicted in the interactive (biomass, atmosphere, soil, oceans, fossil fuels, carbonates) in any order and read the information contained in each.
  3. Tell students to take notes on the processes that change/move carbon from one source of carbon to another.
  4. Sample questions to use with this activity:
    1. What is biomass, and how does carbon move through the food web?
    2. By what process does CO2 become part of plants?
    3. How is CO2 is returned from soil to the atmosphere?
    4. What is the largest source of CO2 on our planet?
    5. Describe three processes that move carbon from one sphere to another in the carbon cycle.

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