ALEX Lesson Plan

Climate Change & The Carbon Cycle

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Amanda King
System: Muscle Shoals City
School: Muscle Shoals Middle School
Author:Bryan Kennedy
System: Winfield City
School: Winfield Middle School
The event this resource created for:NASA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34332


Climate Change & The Carbon Cycle


Students will explore greenhouse gases, how they effect the carbon cycle and the human role in climate change.  

This lesson was created as part of the 2016 NASA STEM Standards of Practice Project, a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 6
Earth and Space Science
7 ) Use models to construct explanations of the various biogeochemical cycles of Earth (e.g., water, carbon, nitrogen) and the flow of energy that drives these processes.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.6.7- Use a model to explain the water cycle, including evaporation, condensation, and precipitation; recognize that the sun provides the energy which drives the water cycle.

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 6
Earth and Space Science
14 ) Analyze and interpret data (e.g., tables, graphs, maps of global and regional temperatures; atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane; rates of human activities) to describe how various human activities (e.g., use of fossil fuels, creation of urban heat islands, agricultural practices) and natural processes (e.g., solar radiation, greenhouse effect, volcanic activity) may cause changes in local and global temperatures over time.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.6.14- Interpret data (e.g., tables, graphs) to determine changes in local and global temperatures over time; identify human activities (e.g. the use of fossil fuels) and natural processes (e.g. volcanic activity) as causes of these changes in temperatures.

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 6
Earth and Space Science
15 ) Analyze evidence (e.g., databases on human populations, rates of consumption of food and other natural resources) to explain how changes in human population, per capita consumption of natural resources, and other human activities (e.g., land use, resource development, water and air pollution, urbanization) affect Earth's systems.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.6.15- Compare the relationship between human population and food consumption, water use, and land use.

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 7
Life Science
5 ) Examine the cycling of matter between abiotic and biotic parts of ecosystems to explain the flow of energy and the conservation of matter.

a. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about how food is broken down through chemical reactions to create new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as it moves through an organism.

b. Generate a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.7.5- Distinguish between abiotic and biotic parts of an ecosystem.
SCI.AAS.7.5a- Recognize that food is broken down through chemical reactions to provide energy needed for the growth of organisms.
SCI.AAS.7.5b- Recognize that plants and animals depend on one another for the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen; identify photosynthesis as the process by which plants transfer energy from the sun into materials needed for growth.

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 7
Life Science
7 ) Use empirical evidence from patterns and data to demonstrate how changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem (e.g., deforestation, succession, drought, fire, disease, human activities, invasive species) can lead to shifts in populations.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.7.7- Interpret data to see how changes in an ecosystem (e.g., drought, forest fires) affect the animal population in an area.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

The learner will identify greenhouse gases through web explorations.

The learner will create a model of the carbon cycle as a set of interactive notebook notes.

The learner will model the carbon cycle using ping pong balls to show the flow of carbon through the environment.

The learner will interpret graphs showing greenhouse gas production.

The learner will identify greenhouse gases and create solutions to the over production of the gases.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with internet connection for each student or pair of students


The major concepts to be taught are greenhouse gases and the carbon cycle.  Teachers should be familiar with the terms global warming, climate change, and conservation.

This is a set of lessons designed to be taught over multiple days.


This set of 4 activities leads the teacher and students through an understanding of the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases.  This unit is designed to be used as an introduction to the carbon cycle.

The human aspect of the overproduction of greenhouse gases is explored through note taking, role-playing, and web searches.  The culminating activity requires that the students analyze graphs to determine areas of greenhouse production and develop solutions to the problem.  Students will write letters to local or state officials describing the problem and offering solutions for their particular communities.


Activity 1: Web Search

Activity 1 is a web search using the NASA website "Climate Kids".  Students will use the page to identify 5 greenhouse gases, areas of greenhouse gas production, areas of greenhouse gas absorption, and solutions to the problem.  

Activity 1 Student Handout  


Activity 2: Carbon Cycle Model

Activity 2 instructs students to use a set of interactive notes and the NASA Climate Kids website to construct a model of the carbon cycle.  The model uses pictures and arrows which are color-coded to show sources and sinks in the carbon cycle.

Activity 2 Student Handout


Activity 3: Carbon Cycle Role Play

1. Show the introductory video from NASA “Coal vs Banana”  at

2.  Complete the role-playing activity designed by the California Academy of Sciences.  This activity requires the use of 14-28 ping pong balls to help illustrate carbon transfer:

Activity 4: Human's Role in the Carbon Cycle and Climate Change

Activity 4 uses another NASA video to show how humans affect greenhouse gas production through their activities and removal of green spaces.  

It culminates with a web search and an end-of-unit assessment requiring students to write a letter to an elected official describing a greenhouse gas problem and a possible solution.  An assessment rubric is available.

1. Show the introductory video from NASA “Carbon Usage on Earth” at

2.  Use the EPA website to answer the questions on the activity sheet.

Activity 4 Student Handout


Assessment Strategies

The final assessment is for students to write a letter to an elected official describing a problem with greenhouse gases and a possible solution.

Assessment Rubric for business letter to elected official





Students with learning difficulties can be paired with another student during the web searches.

Students with dexterity issues can be assisted by having the interactive notes materials pre-cut for them.

The assessment can be modified by having students with learning difficulties work in a group to construct one letter with the assistance of a teaching aide or by being paired with another student.


View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.