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Carbon Travels - Then and Now

Bay Area E-STEM Institute

Students play the role of carbon atoms to learn about the carbon cycle and how it is changing. Students create two carbon cycle diagrams—visual models of the cycle before and after the Industrial Revolution. They reflect on the game and how scientists believe humans are impacting this critical Earth system.

This learning activity takes two 45min class periods

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

  • There are many helpful extension activities included in the lesson plan.
  • This activity is not recommended for classes with serious behavior or cooperation issues. The teacher will need to monitor students closely during the carbon cycle experiment to make sure they are following directions.

About the Content

  • In this activity, students learn about the carbon cycle- what it is, how it works and how it is changing.
  • Students learn about 8 important areas where carbon is found (atmosphere, terrestrial life, soil, marine life, surface life, intermediate deep ocean, ocean sediment, and fossil fuel deposits).
  • The information in this lesson is scientifically accurate, thorough, easy to follow, and gives complete definitions for new terminology.
  • Rigor is appropriate for an introductory lesson.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • The lesson offers several ways in which it could be adapted to meet the need of different age learners/abilities.
  • The activity is a simulation in which students act as carbon, participating in the carbon cycle.
  • The teacher guide and materials are easily accessible.
  • The lesson includes a visual introduction (bubbly water), a game, and worksheets.
  • Extension activities are provided which help adapt the lesson for multiple audiences.
  • The lesson is intended for grade levels 4-12, however, CLEAN reviewers felt it was better suited to middle school and higher levels. The prerequisite would be students have mastered basic skills up to the appropriate level the lesson is taught.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity is low cost and easily accessible.
  • Uncommon materials needed include dice for every student.
  • About 20 minutes of teacher prep time is needed, possibly less.
  • This resource does not require the use of technology, however, if the teacher chooses to show one of the videos for further explanation of the carbon cycle and/or utilizes one of the links to illustrate a carbon cycle diagram, a computer will be needed.
  • Some of the extension activities do have a cost associated with them.
  • The teacher will need to print color copies of carbon reservoir stations (8), one set for before the industrial revolution and one for after, one carbon travels handout for each student, and the "The Fast and Slow Carbon Cycles" reading.
Entered the Collection: March 2023 Last Reviewed: August 2022

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