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This case study is meant to be used after teaching photosynthesis and cellular respiration in a biology course. This activity serves as a student-centered learning activity that introduces the carbon cycle, and its relevance to the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Vocabulary words including organic compound, autotroph, heterotroph, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration are revisited.
Through completion of this case study, students are then asked to consider questions related to what they have learned previously in their photosynthesis and cellular respiration units, and how it applies to the carbon cycle. Students are asked to consider quantitative data of carbon dioxide levels through the seasons, changes in world consumption of fossil fuels over time, global carbon dioxide levels as measured in ice cores, and the change in pH of the oceans over time. Students are also shown satellite imagery of forest canopy coverage in the Brazilian rainforest, satellite images of the polar ice caps over time, and images of the glacier in Glacier National Park. Students are asked to consider how changes to the carbon cycle could affect the food web and food chains, as well as global sea levels, and marine life. Finally, students learn about the greenhouse gas effect, and carbon dioxide's role in Earth's global temperature.