National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
The Carbon Cycle and Climate Smart Agriculture
9 - 12
Students will explore the carbon cycle, evaluate natural and human-induced activities that drive the carbon cycle, and discover climate smart agricultural practices that can be used to produce our food.
- Climate Change Phenomena e-magazine, digital access for each student
- Carbon Cycle Scenario Sheets, 1 copy per classroom printed front to back and in color
- Carbon Cycle handout, 1 copy per student
- Colored pencils, 1 blue and 1 red per student
- Happy Cows Help Save the Planet: Climate Smart Agriculture in Costa Rica video
- Climate Smart Agriculture cards, 1 copy per class printed front to back
adaptation: a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment
agricultural practices: a collection of principles used to facilitate farming
carbon: a chemical element; a nonmetal which has two main forms (diamond and graphite)
carbon cycle: a process where carbon compounds are moved from one reservoir to another
climate change: a change in global or regional climate patterns which can include increased temperatures and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, etc.
deforestation: the action of clearing a wide area of trees
food security: the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food
fossil fuels: a natural fuel such as coal or gas formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms
global warming: a rise in Earth's mean surface temperature as a result of the release of greenhouse gases
mitigation: the act of reducing the severity of something
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- In 2016, agriculture and forestry accounted for 9.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.1
- Climate change will likely increase the risk of food insecurity around the globe.2
- Despite technological advancements through selective breeding, genetically modified organisms, and irrigation systems, weather is a key factor in agricultural production.2
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Provide each student with digital access to the Climate Change Phenomena e-magazine.
- Instruct students to read the e-magazine and to click on all of the interactive links. Point out to students that the links are highlighted in a light blue color in the e-magazine.
- Ask students to reflect on what they learned from the Climate Change Phenomena e-magazine. Ask, "If you were to summarize everything you read about and learned into one word, what would it be?" Allow students to offer answers. Use guiding questions to help them identify the word carbon. Carbon is the variable that is at the root of climate change. Use this tipping point to emphasize the importance of the carbon cycle. Inform students that they will be using what they learned in the e-magazine to dive into the carbon cycle in more detail.
Activity 1: The Carbon Cycle
- Ask students to recall the four spheres found on Earth. (biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere)
- Divide the class into 12 teams or small groups. Give each group one Carbon Cycle Scenario Sheet (printed front to back with the illustration on the front and the description on the back).
- Instruct each group to complete the following steps:
- Read the description on the back of the sheet to understand the process described.
- Identify the two spheres where carbon is transferred to and from.
- Place their sheet on the white board and label it by writing the sphere where the carbon started above the sheet and the sphere where the carbon was transferred below the sheet.
- Once all of the students add their sheet to the board, review each process as a class. You may lead a discussion as a class to describe each process and state the two spheres where carbon is transferred to and from, or you may have each group teach their peers.
- After each of the processes have been reviewed, ask your students to observe the sheets and determine what is different about the sheets with the blue circles versus the sheets with the red circles. (Students should recognize that the blue circles represent processes that take place naturally, and the red circles represent human activities that impact the carbon cycle.)
- Now that students can recognize the individual processes that transfer carbon from sphere to sphere, they can begin to see the bigger picture of the cycle. Give each student one copy of the Carbon Cycle handout, one red colored pencil, and one blue colored pencil.
- Begin with the blue (naturally occurring) Carbon Cycle Scenarios. Have students use their blue colored pencil to draw arrows on their Carbon Cycle handout. Label each arrow with the associated carbon cycle process.
- Next, have students turn their sheet over and use their red colored pencil to label the human-induced carbon cycling processes.
- Ask students the following questions.
- In terms of balance, which carbon cycle appears to have the most balance? (naturally occurring)
- If you were to think critically about what these cycles illustrate, what questions would you ask about the amount of carbon transferred through each process? (Does each process transfer the same amount of carbon? For example, does respiration put the same amount of carbon in the atmosphere as the burning of fossil fuels?)
Activity 2: Climate Smart Agriculture
- Ask students to brainstorm all of the actions they can personally take to reduce our negative impact on the environment. List them on the board. Examples students may think of include driving less, using public transportation, reducing plastic use, etc.
- Ask students to recall from the Climate Change Phenomena e-magazine the definitions of the words adaptation and mitigation. Point out to students that the items listed on the board are examples of mitigations. They are choices and efforts aimed to decrease the excessive transfer of carbon to the atmosphere. Explain that there are similar measures that can be taken on farms to both mitigate climate change and adapt to a changing climate.
- Show students the video clip, Happy Cows Help Save the Planet: Climate Smart Agriculture in Costa Rica. As students watch the video, have them make a list of things the farmer does to mitigate greenhouse emissions that lead to climate change.
- After watching the video, ask, "What did the Costa Rican farmers do to mitigate climate change?" (They use fences made from living trees, manage healthy grass and forage which protects soil from erosion, plant trees for shade, take measures to protect birds and wildlife, use a biodigester for manure management, etc.)
- Divide students into 10 small groups. Give each group one Climate Smart Agriculture card.
- Point out the diagram on the back of their card. Discuss three goals to climate smart agriculture.
- Increase Productivity: Producing food, fuel, and fiber for our world requires the use of natural resources and comes at a cost to our environment. If we can increase the productivity and efficiency of our farming practices, the overall environmental impact of producing food (per calorie) will be less.
- Enhance Resilience: Although mitigating climate change is important, our climate is changing. Measures to enhance the resilience of livestock and crops to climate change are necessary to continue to produce food for a growing population.
- Reduce Emissions: Science and technology are helping us identify ways we can change farming practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Give students time to research their climate-smart farming practice. They should begin with the introduction on their card and then continue with an internet search to answer the questions on the front of their handout.
- Select a presentation method to allow your students to share their climate smart agricultural practice with their peers. Examples include:
- Augmented Reality using the HP Reveal app. (See Farm-to-Fork in Augmented Reality for detailed instructions on using this app in class. A tutorial video and an example of augmented reality being used in a history class project may also help illustrate the assignment further, along with the different ways students can use the app (images, videos, etc.).)
- Conduct a gallery walk using their Climate Smart Agriculture cards
- Speed dating peer-to-peer teaching
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
Review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Climate change includes the long-term warming of the planet as well as extreme weather events such as floods, storms, droughts, etc. Climate impacts farms and the production of the food we eat.
- The carbon cycle is a natural process, but human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and some agricultural practices accelerate the carbon cycle leading to excess carbon in the atmosphere.
- When evaluating the long term sustainability of farming practices, carbon footprint should be considered.
- Some agricultural practices contribute to climate change. Climate-smart farming practices are being discovered and implemented to ensure a sustainable food supply for our future.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Watch At the Core of Climate Change to learn more about how scientists use data collected from ice cores in Antarctica to study climate change.
For more depth on the carbon cycle and the impact of cattle on climate change, see the lesson Carbon Hoofprints: Cows and Climate Change.
Watch videos in the Cows and Climate playlist. These short videos by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor at UC Davis, explain answers to common questions about carbon emissions, agriculture, food waste, and sustainability.
Suggested Companion Resources
- How Reducing Food Waste Could Ease Climate Change (Multimedia)
- How to Feed the World in 2050: Actions in a Changing Climate video (Multimedia)
- Some Like it Hot: Climate Change and Agricultural Pests (Multimedia)
- TedTalk- How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change (Multimedia)
- The Price of Climate Audio Series (Multimedia)
- Climate Change Phenomena e-Magazine (Booklets & Readers)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Evaluate the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture (T1.9-12.e)
- Evaluate the various definitions of “sustainable agriculture,” considering population growth, carbon footprint, environmental systems, land and water resources, and economics (T1.9-12.f)
Education Content Standards
HS-ESS2: Earth's Systems
HS-ESS2-6Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
HS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
HS-ESS3-4Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.