Summary: This topic guide focuses on photosynthesis to help students to understand the role that plants play in carbon storage. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Animals, in contrast, breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been adding more carbon into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, and this imbalance in the carbon cycle has led to changes in the Earth’s climate. The role that plants naturally play in carbon uptake is becoming increasingly important as humans look for ways to deal with increasing amounts of carbon in the atmosphere.
Concepts to teach:
- Crosscutting Concepts
- Energy and Matter
- Disciplinary Core Ideas
- LS1.C – Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
- Science Practices
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Through photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide from the air
- Most of a tree’s mass is made up of carbon
- Plants play an important role in capturing, storing, and releasing carbon
Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations
- 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
Students will be able to:
- Explain how plants put on mass by obtaining carbon from the air through photosynthesis.
- Describe the role plants play in storing carbon
- Identify ways carbon can be released from plant material
Activity Links and Resources:
- Activity: Putting on Mass: Just how do trees grow?—Students examine an historical experiment conducted by Jan Baptista Van Helmont, and discuss what they believe actually caused Van Helmont’s seedling to gain mass.
- Activity: Injecting Inquiry into Photosynthesis Investigations—This article describe how to use bromothymol blue (BTB) with students to demonstrate through experimentation that plants take up CO2.
- Use Van Helmont’s question as an assessment to elicit ideas about how plants put on mass.
- Suggest a redesign of Van Helmont’s experiment that includes an understanding of photosynthesis.