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HS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Performance Expectation:
HS-LS2-5. Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular
respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
 Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle,
in which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere
through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes.
[Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include simulations and mathematical
models.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the specific chemical steps of
photosynthesis and respiration.]

Dimension Name and NGSS Code/Citation Measurable Student

Be Specific
Disciplinary Core Idea(s) LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Have students
Energy Transfer in Ecosystems diagram the process
Photosynthesis and cellular of photosynthesis
respiration (including anaerobic indicating inputs and
processes) provide most of the energy outputs. Passing with
for life processes. (HS-LS2-3) 100%.

Science and Engineering Develop a model based on evidence Students will create
Practice(s) to illustrate the relationships between
posters effectively
systems or components of a system. showing the
(HS-LS2-5) relationships between
the carbon cycle and
human influence
illustrating how to
help reduce negative
effects. Grading will
be based off a rubric.
Passing at 75% or
Crosscutting Concept(s) Energy and Matter: Energy drives the Students can map out
cycling of matter within and between the carbon cycle, able
systems. to fill in any missing
blank spaces off a
Passing with 80% or

Day One


This lesson covers the process of photosynthesis and the related plant cell functions of
transpiration and cellular respiration. Students learn how engineers can view the natural process
of photosynthesis as an exemplary model of a complex, yet efficient, process for converting solar
energy to chemical energy or distributing water throughout a system.

Engineering Connection

Engineers are faced with the challenge of designing energy efficient systems for heating
buildings, for example, or creating fuel-efficient vehicles. The photosynthetic process serves as
an excellent model for highly efficient engineering design. Plants convert readily available
resources (water, sunlight and carbon dioxide) into plant fuel (glucose). The only byproduct of
the process is oxygen, which is an environmentally friendly product that is consumable by other
organisms. Engineers who are working to optimize fuel efficiency and minimize hazardous
emissions can look to the effective process of photosynthesis as an example.

Learning Objectives

 Describe how the relationship between photosynthesis and respiration sustain life on this
planet through diagramming on summative assessments.
 Explain the relationship between plants and animals in the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle
by creating posters of the cycle.
 Identify ways in which engineers could utilize knowledge of photosynthesis throughout
guided discussions.

Introduction/Motivation (15 minutes)

Imagine if you could simply stand in the sun, breath air, drink water and be able to produce all
your own food, never having to cook or go out to eat, never having to shop, and never having to
decide what you will eat next. Technically, you would have to be green or, rather, your skin
would have to contain chlorophyll—the substance that creates the green color in plants and some
algae and protistans. We just described a process that uses chlorophyll; does anyone know the
name of that process? (Answer: photosynthesis)

During the process of photosynthesis, a plant will make its own food, called glucose. How does it
do this? Well, inside the plant cells, a chemical reaction takes place that uses sunlight to turn
water and carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen. The plant simply releases the oxygen, much
in the same way that you and I breathe out carbon dioxide. The oxygen can then be breathed in
by other organisms, like us! Plants and humans depend on each other by breathing in what others
breathe out—precisely how most of the natural world works: the waste of one organism is the
food of another.

It would be great if all the products that engineers designed could produce such environmentally
friendly and useful byproducts. In fact, engineers work to design highly efficient products with
(and from!) reusable waste. For example, mechanical and chemical engineers who are working
on developing hydrogen fuel cell cars have designed the new technology to give off water as its
only byproduct. In addition, they are working to discover new means of fueling things, such as
automobiles, and for heating and cooling systems for homes and buildings. Some engineers have
employed the concept of biomimicry, whereby they attempt to model our designed energy
systems after those that are naturally occurring, such as photosynthesis.

Lesson Closure

Photosynthesis is a great example of a highly efficient biological process that is good for the
environment. Engineers can use a solid understanding of such biological processes to design
more efficient and less environmentally damaging ways of meeting our needs.

Assessment (10 minutes)

Post-Introduction Assessment

Question and Answer: Ask students the answers to the following questions:

 What are the byproducts/outputs of photosynthesis? (Answer: oxygen and water)

 What is it about these byproducts that are different from the byproducts of for example an
automobile? (Answer: The byproducts of photosynthesis are food/nutrients for other
organisms, while the byproducts of an automobile are mostly toxic to the environment.)
 What are the inputs for photosynthesis? (Answer: carbon dioxide, water and soil

Note: It might be helpful to write down the outputs on the right side of the board/overhead,
inputs on the left and then draw a plant in the middle, showing the entire process. The students
can also take part in posting parts of the process on the board.

Lesson Summary Assessment (15 minutes)

Diagramming: Have students individually diagram the process of photosynthesis indicating

inputs and outputs.

Day Two


Students are introduced to the concept of energy cycles by learning about the carbon cycle. They
learn how carbon atoms travel through the carbon cycle. They consider how human activities
disturb the carbon cycle by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They discuss how
engineers and scientists are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Lastly, students
consider how they can help the world through simple energy conservation measures.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, the student will be able to:

 Describe how human activities have affected the carbon cycle.

 Explain how engineers are working to understand and rebalance the carbon cycle.

Introduction/Motivation (40 minutes)

Who can tell me what element is found in all living things? Carbon! Carbon is the essential
element for life on Earth. Not only is carbon found in all living things, this element is present in
the atmosphere, in layers of limestone sediment on the ocean floor, and in fossil fuels like coal.
(It would be helpful to have several carbon-containing objects to show the students – a sea shell,
a sedimentary rock (limestone), some chalk, a plant, maybe even a lump of coal.) Most sea shells
contain carbon as calcium carbonate (CaCO3), which is one of the most widely distributed
minerals on the Earth's surface. It is found in sedimentary rocks (especially limestone) and in
this piece of chalk that I am holding in front of you. A leafy green plant absorbs carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and uses it, combined with water from the soil, to make the substances it
needs for growth.

What about coal? The carbon that is contained in a lump of coal is carbon from a very long time
ago – a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Millions of years ago, much of the world was
covered with thick vegetation and swamps. When the climate changed, this vegetation died and
sunk underwater, where it lost all its oxygen atoms, leaving sediment — containing a high
percentage of carbon — on the ocean floor. As time passed, layers of sand and mud from the
water settled over some of these sediments. The pressure of these overlying layers, as well as
movements of the Earth's crust, compressed and hardened the deposits and produced coal. Coal,
oil and natural gas are all carbon-containing substances that we call fossil fuels. Can anybody
guess why we call them fossil fuels? That's right, because they were created millions of years
ago, around the same time when fossils were formed.

(print off for students)

Now that you have learned about some carbon-containing objects, let's talk about the carbon
cycle. Can anybody explain what a cycle is? A cycle is a sequence of changing states that
produces a final state identical to the original one.

Engineers are working to reduce the carbon emissions into the atmosphere by developing
technologies that use less fuel and are more sensitive to the balance of the carbon cycles. We as
consumers of energy can also make a big difference by conserving energy. What are some ways
that we can conserve energy? (Allow students time to brainstorm and call out answers.) That's
right — we can remember to turn off our lights, and computers. We can take shorter showers,
ride a bike or walk when we can, and adjust our thermostats a little bit during the winter (heater)
and summer (air conditioner). All of the carbon that cycles through the Earth's systems today
was actually present 4.5 billion years ago, when our solar system was born.

Biomass is also an important part of the carbon cycle. In the energy production industry, biomass
refers to living and recently living biological material (i.e., trees, plants and animal matter) which
can be used as fuel to produce energy. All living (or once-living) organisms contain carbon.
When the biological matter is combusted, the carbon contained in the biological matter is
released back into the atmosphere. For example, dry wood is about 50% carbon. When we burn a
bundle of wood, energy is released as heat. This combustion process also produces CO2 (along
with methane, carbon monoxide and smoke), which is released into the atmosphere. Although
biomass is a renewable fuel, it still contributes to global warming when the amount of biomass
removed from the biosphere is not replaced by an equal amount of vegetation. Both deforestation
(the removal of forest cover, either intentionally — e.g., agriculture or development, or via
natural consequences — e.g., forest fires, floods, etc.) and the urbanization of green sites disturb
the natural carbon cycle by removing biomass and ultimately transferring CO2 into the

Carbon in the Biosphere – Carbon is found everywhere in the biosphere and plays a crucial role
in the structure, biochemistry and nutrition of all living cells. All living organisms are based on
the carbon atom, and they depend on the production of sugars from solar energy and carbon
dioxide (photosynthesis) to produce the chemical energy that facilitates cell growth and
reproduction. The most common way that carbon is transferred to the biosphere is from the
atmosphere via photosynthesis.

Human Activity and the Carbon Cycle

Human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning and deforestation, disrupt the natural flux by
releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. When we mine coal and extract oil from the Earth and then
burn these fossil fuels for transportation, heating, cooking, electricity and manufacturing, we are
effectively moving carbon more rapidly into the atmosphere than is being removed from the
atmosphere naturally through the sedimentation of carbon. This causes the concentration of CO2
in the atmosphere to increase, which leads to global warming. Also, by clear-cutting forests to
support agriculture, we are transferring carbon from living biomass into the atmosphere. Because
of this, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it has ever been.

Lesson Closure

Today we learned that carbon is a very important part of our Earth. In fact, carbon makes life on
Earth possible and exists in many different forms. What are some carbon-containing objects?
That's right – seashells, plants, the atmosphere and coal. Can anyone tell me how human
activities have been releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere? Yes, activities such as fossil
fuel combustion and deforestation, are releasing unnatural amounts of carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere. Today, people are concerned that the high level of CO2 in the atmosphere is
contributing to global climate change. Engineers are working to rebalance the carbon cycle by
reducing CO2 emissions. For example, environmental engineers are studying how to remove
carbon from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration), and mechanical and electrical engineers
design buildings, homes, cars and appliances that use less energy. How can you help engineers
and scientists solve the global problem of climate change? You can remember to turn off the
lights, computers and stereos when you are finished, take shorter showers, ride a bike or walk,
and other energy conservation measures.

Assessment (Take home- or possible designated classroom time)

Educational Poster: Students will create posters showing the relationships between the carbon
cycle and human influence illustrating how to help reduce negative effects. Grading will be
based off a rubric. Passing at 75% or better. Have students work individually or in small groups
to create posters to educate their peers on human influence as well as having students follow the
energy through this cycle. This will be assigned as homework.

Poster Rubric

Skills 4 3 2 1 Score
Pictures/ Pictures and Most pictures and Few of the pictures The student did not
Graphics graphics are clear graphics are clear and graphics are include any
and relevant. and relevant. clear and relevant. pictures or they
were not clear and
Required Student Student shows a Student shows an Student does not
Elements effectively shows clear understanding of show an
relationship understanding of carbon cycle and understanding of
between carbon carbon cycle and human influence. the carbon cycle
cycle and how how humans Illustrates 1-2 ways and human
humans influence influence it. to reduce negative influence. There
it. Illustrating 5 Illustrates 3-4 effects. are no illustrations
or more ways to ways to reduce of ways to reduce
reduce negative negative effects. negative effects.
Clarity and The project has The project has a The project needs The project needs
Appeal an excellent nice design and improvement in significant
design and layout. It is neat design, layout, or improvement in
layout. It is neat and easy to read. neatness. design, layout, and
and easy to neatness.

understand the
Grammar, Poster is free of Poster has 1-2 Poster has 3-4 Poster has many
Punctuation, grammar, errors in errors in grammar. errors. Unable to
Spelling, and punctuation, and grammar, punctuation, and understand content.
Content spelling errors. punctuation, and spelling. Content is
Content is easy to spelling. Content difficult to
understand. is easy to understand.

Poster Rubric in Spanish

Habilidades 4 3 2 1 Puntuacion
Fotos/ Las imágenes y La mayoría de Pocas de las El estudiante no
Graficos los gráficos son las imágenes y imágenes y incluyó ninguna
claros y los gráficos son gráficos son imagen o no fue
relevantes. claros y claros y clara y relevante.
relevantes. relevantes.
Elementos El estudiante El alumno El estudiante El estudiante no
Requeridos muestra de muestra una muestra una muestra una
manera efectiva comprensión comprensión del comprensión del
la relación entre clara del ciclo ciclo del carbono ciclo del carbono
el ciclo del del carbono y y la influencia y la influencia
carbono y cómo cómo los humana. Ilustra 1- humana. No hay
los humanos lo humanos lo 2 maneras de ilustraciones de
influencian. influencian. reducir los efectos formas de reducir
Ilustrando 5 o Ilustra 3-4 negativos. los efectos
más formas de formas de negativos.
reducir los reducir los
efectos efectos
negativos. negativos
Claridad y El proyecto El proyecto El proyecto El proyecto
Atractivo tiene un tiene un diseño y necesita mejoras necesita una
excelente diseño distribución en diseño, diseño mejora
y diseño. Es agradable. Es o pulcritud. significativa en el
limpio y fácil de limpio y fácil de diseño, el diseño y
entender el leer. la pulcritud.
Gramática, El póster está El póster tiene El póster tiene 3-4 El póster tiene
Puntuación, libre de errores 1-2 errores en errores en la muchos errores.
Ortografía y de gramática, gramática, gramática, No se puede
Contenido puntuación y puntuación y puntuación y entender el
ortografía. El ortografía. El ortografía. El contenido.5
contenido es contenido es contenido es
fácil de fácil de difícil de
entender. entender. entender.

Summative Assessment

Start by having quiz over carbon cycle (10 minutes)

Carbon Cycle that will be used on test.

Instructional Support

For students who are either physically or mentally disabled or impaired, the carbon cycle
presented will have a word bank where each word has a letter.

Word bank:

a. Sunlight
b. Dead organisms and waste products
c. Decay organisms
d. Plant respiration
e. Photosynthesis
f. Animal respiration
g. Auto and factory emissions
h. Fossils and fossil fuels