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Understanding the Carbon Cycle: A Jigsaw Approach
http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/climatechange/activities/15162.html

David Hastings, SERC - On the Cutting Edge Collection

This is a jigsaw activity in which students are assigned to research one step out of five in the geochemical process stages of the organic carbon cycle. Students then teach their step in cross-step groups until everyone understands all five process stages.

Activity takes one to two class periods.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between their ocean, land, life, and atmosphere 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.
About Teaching Principle 2
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The interconnectedness of Earth’s systems means that a significant change in any one component of the climate system can influence the equilibrium of the entire Earth system. Positive feedback loops can amplify these effects and trigger abrupt changes in the climate system. These complex interactions may result in climate change that is more rapid and on a larger scale than projected by current climate models.
About Teaching Principle 2
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Life—including microbes, plants, and animals and humans—is a major driver of the global carbon cycle and can influence global climate by modifying the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. The geologic record shows that life has significantly altered the atmosphere during Earth’s history.
About Teaching Principle 3
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Natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere operate slowly when compared to the processes that are now adding it to the atmosphere. Thus, carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere today may remain there for a century or more. Other greenhouse gases, including some created by humans, may remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
About Teaching Principle 4
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Energy Literacy

Energy is a quantity that is transferred from system to system.
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1.1 Energy is a quantity.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
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B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
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D) Flow of matter and energy.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Plants on land and under water alter the earth's atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide from it, using the carbon to make sugars and releasing oxygen. This process is responsible for the oxygen content of the air.
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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

  • This is an activity that can be used to introduce the carbon cycle.
  • It would be useful to include other background resources, both for use by educators and also by students in their research.
  • Students may need some suggestions about where to begin their part of the research.

About the Science

  • Sole science reference is a textbook; ideally the educator provides additional sources of background information on the carbon cycle.
  • Addresses terrestrial and organic carbon cycle processes at the biosphere and geosphere levels.
  • Topics included in the activity are photosynthesis, respiration, death, decomposition, and feeding.

About the Pedagogy

  • Jigsaw method is a constructive way to illustrate how these concepts are interconnected.
  • Materials provided include a wide range of extension activities and a poster that could be displayed after the lesson to reinforce retention.
  • Activity emphasizes the integration of concepts.
  • Part of the lesson involves students learning how to perform research and compiling their own information to report back to the group.
  • Jigsaw format is suitable for a variety of learning styles.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very low-tech; easy for students to use in any classroom setting.

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