Blue Chemistry

Education Modules > Module 3 > High School > Blue Chemistry > Science Concepts

Science Concepts—Carbon on the move

Summary: Carbon is an important element that comprises part of all living organisms and is found in many nonliving parts of our planet and atmosphere. In this topic guide, students explore the carbon cycle to discover how carbon moves between atmosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. With a clear understanding of the carbon cycle, students are better prepared to understand the mechanisms underlying global climate change.

Concepts to teach:

  • Crosscutting Concepts
    • Energy and Matter
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • LS2.B - Cycles of matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
    • ESS3.C - Human Impacts on Earth Systems
  • Science Practices
    • Developing and using models, Constructing explanations and designing solutions, Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information


  1. Carbon moves around the planet in various forms and substances
  2. A carbon source, living or non-living, releases CO2 into the atmosphere
  3. A carbon sink absorbs and holds CO2 from the air or water
  4. Human activities are emitting excess carbon into the atmosphere

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • HS-LS2-4. Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Identify objects in their surroundings that contain carbon, as well as an example of a carbon sink and a carbon source.
  2. Describe how carbon moves through the system.
  3. Identify anthropogenic factors that have contributed to an increase in atmospheric carbon in recent decades.

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Students make observations and classifications during their Carbon Walk. They identify whether or not an object contains carbon, and find examples of carbon sinks and carbon sources.
  • Use the Infographic or another source to write a mathematical explanation for changes in the balance of atmospheric carbon.
  • From OCEP teacher Nancy Buchanan: After playing the Carbon Cycle Game, students write a paragraph about their trip through the cycle, including 1) where they went and 2) how they got to each destination. Students create a "map" documenting their journey through the carbon cycle.
  • Carbon Cycle Exploration Assessment Sheet from the Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University, this traditional worksheet solicits short answers to questions about the carbon cycle and Keeling curve.