The Carbon Cycle Game

Cheryl Manning

Teacher - Honors Earth/Space Science, AP Environmental Science, Honors Chemistry

Evergreen High School, Evergreen, Colorado

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Students develop concept maps of the carbon cycle through a die-rolling game that simulates carbon reservoirs and fluxes.

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I designed this activity for use in 9th grade Earth Systems Science and AP Environmental Science Classes. It could be used in Biology classes as well.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Students should have a basic understanding of basic natural cycles, like the rock and water cycles.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This activity is a stand-alone exercise that is used when teaching about carbon in fossil fuels and biogeochemical cycles.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

Colorado State Standards (High School):

Physical Science 3. Matter can change form through chemical or nuclear reactions abiding by the laws of conservation of mass and energy.

Life Science 1. Matter tends to be cycled within an ecosystem, while energy is transformed and eventually exits an ecosystem.

Earth Science 6. The interaction of Earth's surface with water, air, gravity, and biological activity causes physical and chemical changes.

Climate Literacy Principles:

EP 2.) Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth System. d. Biogeochemical Cycles of greenhouse gases/Carbon Cycle: The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between the ocean, land, life and atmospheric reservoirs. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere is reduced through seafloor accumulation of marine sediments and accumulation of plant biomass and is increased through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels as well as through other processes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Students develop an understanding of chemical reservoirs, residence times, and the flux mechanisms required to move nutrients from one place to another.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Students must synthesize the different chemical pathways in the Earth System and analyze how these pathways have changed since the industrial revolution.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Students develop concept maps and compare them in a paragraph or a Venn Diagram.

Description of the activity/assignment

During Round 1, students model the carbon cycle pre-Industrial Revolution. There are stations around the room that represent Earth's carbon reservoirs. Depending on the number rolled on a die, students either stay in that reservoir or move to another reservoir through some flux mechanism. After students have rolled a die 12 times, they make a concept map showing their version of the carbon cycle.
In Round 2, the stations have changed to represent the modern carbon cycle, involving the burning of fossil fuels and modern agricultural practices. Students move through the stations the same way they did in Round 1 and when they are done, they make a new concept map of their route. They then write a paragraph comparing the two concept maps.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students keep a record of where they have been in this model of the carbon cycle. Their concept maps can be compared to the record. Students are also evaluated on their synthesis paragraph in which they describe the difference between the pre-Industrial Revolution and modern carbon cycles.

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Supporting references/URLs

For further exploration of the carbon cycle, see this carbon cycle activity from the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program.