Through readings, videos, hands-on experiments, and iterative modeling, students seek to better understand the way energy moves through the global carbon cycle and maintains Earth’s systems. Students’ models grow in complexity as they deepen their understanding of various cycles on Earth, including the water cycle, the rock cycle, and photosynthesis and respiration, as well as the interconnections between these cycles. They explore the power of using a collaboratively created model to educate an audience and convey the importance of considering human use of fossil fuels.

 

In an opportunity for further action, students can choose to transform the scientific model into an art piece to be displayed in an art, science, or natural history museum or public space, with the goal of inspiring others to learn about Earth’s systems, matter, and energy cycling.

 

Use this unit at a glance to explore a brief outline of the materials included in this unit.

 

Unit Driving Question: Where does the energy in fossil fuels come from and where does it go?

3 hrs 20 mins
The child looks at his collection of minerals. The little geologist.; Shutterstock ID 1076787440; Project details: National Geographic Education Resource Library ; Job: National Geographic Education Resource Library; Client/Licensee: National Geographic Society; Other: Carbon Tracker Unit

Students learn about the Darvaza Crater and ponder what keeps it burning. Then they analyze the Keeling Curve and consider the source of the increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. In the activities to follow, they explore fossil fuel formation, use, benefits, and consequences through a series of readings. By sorting everyday objects and diagramming a simple model of the global carbon cycle, students consider how carbon generally cycles through Earth’s systems, including as fossil fuels. This lesson is part of the Carbon Trackers unit.

4 hrs 35 mins
Schoolgirl writing chemistry formula on blackboard in class; Shutterstock ID 1448129384; Project details: National Geographic Education Resource Library ; Job: National Geographic Education Resource Library; Client/Licensee: National Geographic Society; Other: Carbon Tracker Unit

In this set of activities, students explore the power of creating visual models in science by first researching then constructing models of the rock cycle, the water cycle, and the processes of photosynthesis and respiration in jigsaw groups. Using these models, students teach other groups about their assigned topic, and then collaborate to integrate this information into a larger model of the global carbon cycle. Finally, an experiment, reading, and video about the greenhouse effect help students consider the role of greenhouse gasses in their model of the global carbon cycle. This lesson is part of the Carbon Trackers unit.

2 hrs 30 mins
two school friends using the smart board for their project

Students, in their role as scientists, create and finalize a collaborative model of the global carbon cycle. As a class, they use the model in a presentation aimed to inform and inspire an invited audience to think more carefully about the impacts of fossil fuel use. This lesson is part of the Carbon Trackers unit.

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

Noun

part of the Earth where life exists.

carbon
Noun

chemical element with the symbol C, which forms the basis of all known life.

Noun

series of processes in which carbon (C) atoms circulate through Earth's land, ocean, atmosphere, and interior.

carbon emission
Noun

carbon compound (such as carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere, often through human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

Noun

dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

coal seam
Noun

coal deposit. Also called a coal bed.

combustion
Noun

burning, or the process of a substance reacting with oxygen to produce heat and light.

Noun

process by which water vapor becomes liquid.

electromagnetic radiation
Noun

energy waves affected by both electricity and magnetic fields; includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.

emission
Noun

discharge or release.

Noun

capacity to do work.

Noun

act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

Noun

process by which liquid water becomes water vapor.

extraction
Noun

process by which natural resources are extracted and removed from the earth.

fossil fuel
Noun

coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

Noun

phenomenon where gases allow sunlight to enter Earth's atmosphere but make it difficult for heat to escape.

greenhouse gas
Noun

gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

hydrologic cycle
Noun

system of recycling liquid, gas, and solid water throughout a planet. Also called the water cycle.

Noun

all the Earth's water in the ground, on the surface, and in the air.

Noun

outer, solid portion of the Earth. Also called the geosphere.

Noun

type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

nonrenewable resource
Noun

natural resource that exists in a limited supply.

organic
Adjective

composed of living or once-living material.

Noun

fossil fuel formed from the remains of ancient organisms. Also called crude oil.

Noun

process by which plants turn water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide into water, oxygen, and simple sugars.

Noun

all forms in which water falls to Earth from the atmosphere.

process
Noun

continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a defined manner.

reservoir
Noun

large, concentrated supply or reserve.

respiration
Noun

breathing.

Noun

processes that explain the relationship between the three rock types: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Any rock type can become any other.

sedimentation
Noun

process of accumulating small solid deposits.

Noun

radiation from the sun.

sublimation
Noun

the process by which snow or ice becomes water vapor without first melting and passing through the liquid phase.

system
Noun

collection of items or organisms that are linked and related, functioning as a whole.

thermal energy
Noun

heat, measured in joules or calories.

Noun

the breaking down or dissolving of the Earth's surface rocks and minerals.