Jump to this Activity »
Carbon Journey Game

Andrill, Environmental Literacy Framework

This hands-on activity is a kinesthetic game illustrating the dynamics of the carbon cycle. Acting as carbon atoms, students travel from one carbon reservoir to another. At each reservoir they determine, by rolling dice, how long they stay in the reservoir or how likely it is that they will move to another carbon reservoir.

The activity takes two class periods but can easily be extended if the content is discussed in detail and explored further. Activity requires beads and zip ties or string.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 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
Climate is complex
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Climate is complex

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

  • Teachers are encouraged to have carbon journey activity stations ready in advance.
  • PowerPoint should be shown both at the beginning to introduce the concepts and then perhaps again at the end to reinforce the concepts.
  • Additional websites like http://www.education.noaa.gov/Climate/Carbon_Cycle.html might provide ample additional background for teacher and students to clarify misconceptions and take discussion to another level.
  • Carbon journey activity could be completed in pairs to foster discussion and reduce the material costs.

About the Science

  • In this activity, students model the pathways of carbon through different sinks and sources.
  • UNEP/GRID diagram in the PowerPoint presentation quantifies the carbon cycle nicely.
  • The activity does a first attempt at correcting for residence time. It would be very interesting to show students during the debrief how the numbers that were used for the game compare to the actual residence time. This would be a very powerful and important extension.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This activity covers reservoirs and fluxes of the carbon cycle in a comprehensive way. There is no doubt that this will give students a good idea about how carbon moves around the earth system. The major weakness of this activity is that it gives students an impression that fossil fuels are recyclable. One simple way to solve this is to isolate the fossil fuel reservoir from the rest, and add a constant exchange rate of carbon from fossil fuel to the atmosphere.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity is a very useful tool for the middle school level to introduce the idea of the interconnectedness of the carbon cycle sources and sinks. The bracelet gives students a tangible example of how carbon is collected or released through the different reservoirs.
  • The design of the activity is very carefully done. The teacher is supported with the necessary materials to prepare the dice. Supporting background information is available for the teacher as well as a short glossary, a PowerPoint file, and a video clip.
  • The scientific foundation to understanding the different stations (reservoirs) and processes should be provided by the teacher after the game to strengthen the knowledge acquired during the game.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Both PowerPoint slides and carbon journey activity are well-organized and easy to implement.
  • A glossary with relevant terms is included.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-LS2-3: Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

MS-ESS2.A1:All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. This energy is derived from the sun and Earth’s hot interior. The energy that flows and matter that cycles produce chemical and physical changes in Earth’s materials and living organisms.

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

MS-PS1.B1:Substances react chemically in characteristic ways. In a chemical process, the atoms that make up the original substances are regrouped into different molecules, and these new substances have different properties from those of the reactants.

MS-PS1.B3:Some chemical reactions release energy, others store energy.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C5.1:Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P4.5:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including mean, median, mode, and variability) to analyze and characterize data, using digital tools when feasible.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

Jump to this Activity »