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Understanding the Carbon Cycle: A Jigsaw Approach

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
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Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
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Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
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Biosphere drives the global carbon cycle
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Natural processes of CO2 removal from atmosphere is slow; Long residence time of some GHG
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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.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
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2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

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.

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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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