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Education: The Carbon Question

The Carbon Question

This module is under development. During Summer 2004 it will be field-tested in an experimental course offered through Teachers College at Columbia University, as well as undergo a thorough scientific review.

[The Carbon Question graphic]

This module is designed to connect cutting edge NASA earth science research with the teaching and learning of core science and mathematics concepts and skills while addressing state and national education standards. The focus is on studying carbon which is a key element in the biogeochemical cycle on Earth that enables living organisms to exist and flourish. From blanketing the Earth to keep it warm, to being an elemental building block of molecules that make up all organisms on Earth, carbon is important for the very life that exists on our planet. For example, in a forest ecosystem, carbon is both stored in plant tissue (through photosynthesis) and is emitted back into the atmosphere (through respiration).

Today research scientists are actively investigating how humans alter earth's land surface through various activities, impacting the forests, soils, and wetlands where carbon is stored. Since an important goal of research is creating new knowledge, the process of science inquiry and the research tools used to do research play a major role in the module's investigations. Students take on the roles of research scientists developing firsthand experiences with experimental design, standardization of measurements protocols, qualitative and quantitative techniques for analyzing environmental data, modeling, consensus building, and scientific presentations. The overall aim is to help students develop a scientific view that our environment is a system of human and natural processes that result in changes over various space and time scales.

The lessons in this module are provided below.