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TERC, Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (SERC)


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Social Studies, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Geography, Climate Action

Resource Types

  • Activity - Classroom
  • Video, 40 minutes
  • Data
  • Experiment
  • Assessment

Regional Focus

North America

Lab 5: Soil and the Carbon Cycle


  • In this module students will design and carry out an experiment to explain the relationship between soil and the carbon cycle.
  • After students complete this module they will be able to describe the following:
    • The role of soil microbes and their relationship to the carbon cycle.
    • The impact of global warming on permafrost carbon.
    • How carbon is stored in soil.


  • Site give clear instructions for the teacher on how to implement activity and the materials needed.
  • Key questions and learning objectives are outlined.
  • Resource is easy for students to navigate.

Additional Prerequisites

  • If unfamiliar with the temperature and soil respiration experiment in Lab 5A, consider a practice run before implementation.
  • In Lab 2C, students did a short investigation on blowing into a flask of limewater and observing a chalky white precipitate appear. You may want to review this with students. 
  • Some materials can be printed for students who do not have access to devices.


  • There are multiple ways to adapt this experiment to fit teacher's specific needs. For example, you may decide to fill test tubes with soil instead of bottles. A change like this would also require you to reduce the amount of sugar water and use a different size rubber stopper.
  • Lesson is broken up into Part A and Part B. Consider FLIPPING parts of the lessons. This will save you class time and reduce the need to have computer access in your classroom.
  • Students need to understand that it is the microbes living in the soil that are doing the respiring and not the "soil" which is made of minerals, partially decomposed remains of living things (organic matter) water and air. To make sure that students understand the above, teachers should consider setting-up a class control using soil that has been sterilized in a microwave.
This resource including the activities are engaging and recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-2 Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
      • HS-ESS2-4 Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-5 Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.
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