In this activity, students model the movement of carbon atoms in the carbon cycle and explore the relationship between atmospheric carbon and plants.
The purpose of the activity is to teach students that carbon may be found in a variety of places and that it moves from location to location. While carbon cycles geologically over millions of years, this activity’s primary focus is the biological component of the carbon cycle that happens on a much shorter timeframe.
- Students will participate in an active simulation of the carbon cycle.
- Students will create a model of the carbon cycle.
- Students will calculate the amount of carbon a tree can sequester.
- Global Carbon Cycle teacher page (optional)
- Copies of Carbon Pathway, Tree Data, and How Much Carbon Is in a Tree? (Metric Units) or How Much Carbon Is in a Tree? (English Units) student pages
- Cards cut apart from the Carbon Cycle Station Cards teacher pages
- Three pairs of dice (optional)
- Six blank sheets of paper for station labels
- Large pieces of paper for group diagrams
- Marking pens
- Tape or thumb tacks
- For each group: Small sample of wood (see Getting Ready below), scale or triple beam balance, large graduated cylinder, calculator (all optional)
- Tree or trees to measure
- Measuring tapes
- Getting Ready: 60 minutes
- Doing the Activity: two to three 50-minute periods
- Evaluate: Varies, depending on option selected
- Print and cut apart the Carbon Cycle Station Cards teacher pages, and make copies of the student pages.
- Use the blank paper to create labels for each of the six stations: Air (Atmosphere), Tree, Firewood, Wood Product, Fallen Log, and Animal.
- Set up six stations, each with one die and a label. Post the label (with tape or thumb tacks) so that it is visible from any place in the room. Place the die and corresponding Carbon Cycle Station Card on a table or desk. Students need enough space to gather at each station and move between stations.
- (Optional) Collect samples of wood for the Elaborate section of Doing the Activity (see Step 13). Pieces should fit easily into a graduated cylinder. Groups might have the same or different types of wood. Have enough wood samples to provide new ones throughout the day. (If a sample absorbs too much water, it will skew the results.)
- (Optional) Consider inviting a forester or interpreter from a local state park or nature area to talk with students about the important role that trees play in the carbon cycle and to help them with their tree carbon measurements and calculations.
- See Additional Resources to find other supports for teaching this activity.
PLT Conceptual Framework
- 2.1. Organisms are interdependent and depend on nonliving components of the Earth.
- 3.1. In biological systems, energy flows and materials continually cycle in predictable and measurable patterns.
- 5.2. Healthy ecosystems are in a state of dynamic equilibrium, with steady inflows and outflows.
See Standards Connections in the Appendices for a list of standards addressed in this activity.