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Carbon on the Move!

Candace Dunlap, TERC

In this 3-part lab activity, students investigate how carbon moves through the global carbon cycle and study the effects of specific feedback loops on the carbon cycle.

Activity takes about one 60-min lesson.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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

  • Teaching tips provided in Teacher version of lab https://serc.carleton.edu/earthlabs/carbon/lab_2.html
  • The "Stop and Think" questions could be used as evaluation tools.
  • If using as a stand-alone lesson, may want to review the learning objectives from Lab 1 as the lesson refers to activities or skills learned in that lesson.
  • Could cut or abbreviate some of the activities to make more age appropriate for high school students.

About the Content

  • Great introduction to the many biochemical processes involved in the carbon cycle, thinking about the carbon cycle as a system, applying systems thinking to real-world management scenario (mountain pine beetle), and feedback loops.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Clear and scientifically relevant goals for students Accurate key processes involved in the carbon cycle. Mostly high quality, informative resources. Good, and nicely contrasting examples/descriptions of feedback loops in the pine beetle section.
    Minor point: In the diagram of the terrestrial food web in Part A (https://serc.carleton.edu/eslabs/carbon/2a.html), the decomposers aren’t really connected to the rest of the diagram with any arrows.

    Minor points: In the animation at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/facilities/multimedia/uploads/alberta/CarbonCycle.html there should also be CO2 coming out of the ocean (this is correctly shown in a later figure). There are other things about that animation that are odd, e.g. what’s the difference intended between “fossil fuels” and “burning of fossil fuels”? why not have “photosynthesis” also taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and putting it into the forests on the right? Missing link between the tree and the squirrel.

    Part A, 2nd Checking in Box, Q2. The system marks “combustion/burning as incorrect, but the animation shows burning of fossil fuels transferring CO2 from “rocks” to the atmosphere, both of which are within the “geosphere”. Or do the creators of this lab put fossil fuels in the “biosphere” box? Based on Q5 in the 3rd “Checking In” box, it seems perhaps they do consider fossil fuels as part of the biosphere.

    About feedback terminology: the scientific terms “positive” and “negative” for feedback loops is notoriously confusing to most humans. I advocate for us all to move away from those and use more descriptive terminology such as those in Donella Meadows’ work: amplifying or reinforcing instead of “positive”, and balancing or stabilizing instead of “negative”. In Part C, this activity does switch to more helpful terminology (“amplifying” and “slowing down”, then later “reinforcing” and “balancing”).

    Part A, 2nd Checking In box, Q3: I don’t see how students would be able to answer this question after watching the animation. I assume there is other information they have – perhaps from the game.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity includes a teacher version of the lab (with information on common misconceptions about carbon and the carbon cycle), end-of-lab assessments, and answer key: https://serc.carleton.edu/eslabs/carbon/lab2.html
  • Part of a larger group of lessons/labs - EarthLabs - but can be used as a stand-alone lesson.
  • Include "Checking In" and "Stop and Think" questions for each lab component to guide students' exploration of the carbon cycle.
  • Great visual diagrams and animations included.
  • Lesson extension at the end of the lab for further exploration of mountain pine beetle included.
  • Lab includes three different activities: a game, an interactive visualization, and an investigation of feedback loops.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very easy to use step-by-step lesson.
  • Internet access needed for animations and videos.
  • Easy to use - all materials provided via links or downloadable pdf or Word format. All pages are designed to be printer-friendly.

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

One of 8 labs within the Climate & Carbon Cycle Unit: https://serc.carleton.edu/eslabs/carbon/index.html Unit is one of 9 units in the EarthLabs resource: https://serc.carleton.edu/eslabs/index.html
Entered the Collection: February 2018 Last Reviewed: May 2015

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