Climate Change in My Backyard Activity Guide

Unit 1: The Earth as a System

In Unit 1, students learn about the carbon cycle and the role that plants play in maintaining atmospheric concentrations of CO2, including photosynthesis and respiration of different plants under different conditions. They define provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services and look at the ways that they contribute to human wellbeing.

Activity 1.1: The Carbon Cycle

  1. Modeling the Carbon Cycle: Students discuss the components of the carbon cycle as a class and then break into groups to create their own models of the carbon cycle. Once they have completed their models, they research other models of the carbon cycle as found in research texts and on line. They add to their model and discuss the differences. They then address the role of natural and human-induced carbon sinks, sources, and release agents in modifying the carbon cycle.
  2. The Carbon Cycle Game: Students play a game in which they take on the role of a carbon atom moving through the carbon cycle. They will follow their atom based on random flip of the coin through the various levels of the food chain, and through biotic and abiotic processes that make up the carbon cycle. They then answer discussion questions based on their experiences in the game.

Activity 1.2 Carbon, Greenhouse Gasses, and Climate

  1. Modeling the Greenhouse Effect: This lab activity demonstrates the role that carbon, greenhouse gases, and particles in the atmosphere play in maintaining the temperature of our planet.
  2. Greenhouse Gasses and Climate: Using GEEBITT, a NASA data analysis tool, students model the role of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in moderating climate and propose atmospheric conditions that could have produced the climates of the past.

Activity 1.3: Are All Plants Created Equal?

  1. Introduction to Photosynthesis (Optional: if students have not yet covered photosynthesis): Students will explore photosynthesis, investigating how and where it takes place, how plants obtain the materials necessary for it to occur, and its products. Students make observations of stomata and compare the stomata from different plants. Students discuss their results and draw conclusions about why stomata are important for photosynthesis, how carbon dioxide gets into the plant, and how plants then get the carbon they need to make sugar.
  2. Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration: Students explore the factors that may affect rates of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students will design experiments to test, describe, and explain the cyclical relationship between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students generate hypotheses on the relationship between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. They use electronic data collection probes to determine the amount of CO2 and O2 produced by different plants under different conditions. Students then analyze that data and draw conclusions about how plants impact the composition of the atmosphere.

Activity 1.4 Ecosystem Services
Students are introduced to the concept of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are functions and values of intact ecosystems to humans. Students will research ecosystem services in different states/regions and identify the role that plants play in providing essential ecosystem services.