Exploring the Carbon Cycle

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SWBAT to develop a model to describe the carbon cycle among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.

Big Idea

Students explore the cycling of carbon and it's impact on ecosystems.


5 minutes

In this section of lesson I engage students by showing students a TEDEd video The Carbon Cycle by Nathaniel Manning.  This video gives students a basic look into the cyclical relationship of carbon, humans and the environment. (MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.) 

As students are watching video I have them answer the following questions:

1.  The process of plants turning light and carbon dioxide in sucrose and glucose is called:

a.  carbohydrates

b.  decomposition

c.  deforestation

d.  photosynthesis

e.  synthetic biology

2.  Greenhouse gases are created by:

a.  cutting down trees

b.  burning fossil fuels

c.  decomposing organic matter

d.  waste created throughout the food chain

e.  all of the above

3.  Burning fossil fuels creates energy because

a.  of electromagnetism

b.  the stored energy in the carbon-based fossil fuel is converted from sunlight throughphotosynthesis

c.  oil has super powers

d.  the potential energy of all the pressure put into the fossil fuels is being released

e.  of gravity

4.  Technology is a solution to climate change because:

a.  it is unfair to require some nations to stay poor so that we may reduce CO2

b.  People want a catastrophe or shorter life spans to reduce population

c.  technology can have both positive and negative consequences

d.  there is unlimited potential to invent sustainable technologies 

e.  all of the above

5.  Human breathe in _______ and exhale _______.

a.  oxygen, CO2

b.  CO2, oxygen

c. oxygen, oxygen

d. C02, CO2

e. oxygen, carbon monoxide


30 minutes

In this section of the lesson students explore the carbon cycle by completing Carbon Adventures: A game to teach the Carbon Cycle courtesy of the Arizona State University GK-12 program.


This lesson plan is designed to introduce the complexity of the carbon cycle to students. By the end of the game, students should understand that carbon can take many forms throughout the carbon cycle, and that no set pathway exists in the cycle (SP2-Developing and Using Models/CCC - Energy and Matter - The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a natural system.) 


The students will be able to:
• Describe what is carbon.
• Describe the difference between organic and inorganic carbon.
• Identify different carbon pools.
• Identify different forms carbon takes throughout the carbon cycle.
• Describe paths in which carbon can move throughout the environment.
• Describe how humans influence the carbon cycle

Teacher Note:  I will add to narrative once I have taught lesson including any modification to protocol. 


10 minutes

In this section of lesson I have students read an article titled Carbon Cycle from cK-12.  Before reading the article students complete a Pre Read.


To stimulate the critical thinking skills required to assess the validity of statements about the key concept using an Agree/Disagree Table. 

Once students have read article they answer the following text-dependent questions. (RST.6.-8.1.Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.)


  1. What is the role of the carbon cycle?
  2. Why is cycling carbon important?
  3. Describe a major method that carbon is cycled.
  4. How have human activities increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels?

After answering the questions students complete a Post Read.


To create sentences using pairs of key vocabulary words to activate prior knowledge of specific science content by using the Possible Sentences strategy. 


10 minutes

In this section of lesson students elaborate on what they have learned about the carbon cycle by completing an online tutorial titled The Global Carbon Cycle. This tutorial is an extension of the textbook Life: The Science of Biology, Volume 1 by David E. Sadava, David M. Hillis, H. Craig Heller.

Once students have completed the tutorial, the take a short quiz.


5 minutes

In this section of lesson we revisit the TEDEd video The Carbon Cycle by Nathaniel Manning that we opened with. 


Following the video, students write to answer an open ended question.

Carbon and energy are explained as a cycle, and the lesson uses a computer as a metaphor for the crashing of the system. Explain the carbon and energy cycles in your own words, and then create your own metaphor for the cycle and its current status.(MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.)