Jump to this Activity »
Carbon Dioxide Exercise

Randy Richardson, SERC - Starting Point Collection

In this activity, students work in groups, plotting carbon dioxide concentrations over time on overheads and estimating the rate of change over five years. Stacked together, the overheads for the whole class show an increase on carbon dioxide over five years and annual variation driven by photosynthesis. This exercise enables students to practice basic quantitative skills and understand how important sampling intervals can be when studying changes over time. A goal is to see how small sample size may give incomplete picture of data.

Activity takes at least one class period. It requires overhead projector and transparency sheets to project compiled data sheets.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.
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

  • Clear instructions are in the student handout. Note that there are two options for distributing the data points.
  • If part 2 on the student handout is used for homework, educator must provide compiled CO2 curve ahead of time.
  • Students could be challenged to investigate why CO2 is increasing (natural variation and/or anthropogenic sources).

About the Content

  • Allows students to work with real data through the simple graphing of original CO2 data at Mauna Loa. Good basic introduction to the Keeling curve.
  • Added insight that when data points are collected (i.e. sampling interval) can have a substantial bearing on the interpretation of the data; the idea of outliers can also be introduced.
  • Tackles a small part of understanding atmospheric CO2 and does so very effectively.
  • Uses data from 2005 through March 2012 (activity says in descriptions of files etc., that data only available through 2011 but it actually includes data from 2012).
  • Useful for addressing misconceptions about atmospheric CO2 concentrations and measurements.

About the Pedagogy

  • Guides students step-wise into plotting a small bit of the data and then fitting it into a larger set of data.
  • Interpretation starts out fuzzy then becomes focused as more data points are added (simulates real world science).
  • Engaging group activity.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • All relevant data is given in the activity.
  • Requires overhead projector and transparency sheets to project compiled data sheets.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

This activity is similar to the Our Changing Atmosphere resource.
Entered the Collection: February 2012 Last Reviewed: July 2016

Jump to this Activity »