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


8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plans
  • Experiments
  • Activity - Classroom
  • Interactive Media
  • Assessments
  • Videos, 5 minutes, 38 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Videos, 3 minutes, 58 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Videos, 5 minutes, 11 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Games

Regional Focus


The Global Carbon Cycle Lab

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  • This interactive three-part lab about the carbon cycle introduces students to the living systems and non-living reservoirs that cycle carbon, the time scales of each cycle, and the feedback loops that occur between systems.
  • Students will learn about photosynthesis, cellular respiration, decomposition, major carbon reservoirs, and how they are all connected to each other.
  • Each section takes approximately 50-100 minutes to complete and the lab is called "Carbon on the Move" on the student site.
Teaching Tips


  • There is a lab overview section, which identifies all of the materials you'll need to gather and provides a quick scope and sequence of the unit.
  • Key questions and learning objectives are outlined, extensions are suggested, and the self-assessments are helpful for students as they complete the lab sections.
  • Students will get out of their seats and move around for two of the sections.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students will need access to computers and the Internet for some parts of this lab.
  • Some activities require some preparation and materials.
  • This is Lab #2 of the "Climate and the Carbon Cycle" labs.


  • The first part of the lab can connect with science classes covering food webs, cells, energy, photosynthesis, digestion, respiration, decomposition, or ecosystems.
  • The second part can connect to global cycles, the greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases, reflectivity, albedo, and geologic processes.
  • The third part can connect to systems-thinking, feedback loops, and the effects of changes to biogeochemical cycles.
  • Some concrete thinkers may need more time to wrap their head around the concept of positive and negative feedback loops. Have them think about positive and negative as they would for numbers, instead of positive and negative being "good" or "bad."
Scientist Notes
Students will get insights on the processes that drive carbon from one system to another and how carbon compounds are transformed and transported in the Geosphere and Biosphere. The resource is recommended for teaching.
  • 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.
      • HS-ESS2-6 Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
      • HS-ESS3-6 Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • MS-LS2-3 Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
      • HS-LS2-5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
      • HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
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