Middle School Lesson Plan

Developed by: Jeanine Gelhaus, Medford Middle School, Medford, WI

In collaboration with: Galen McKinley, Univeristy of Wisconsin – Madison © Copyright 2011




TOTAL TIME INVOLVED: 3 class periods (average) Some students took two days to complete the entire activity. Others took one to two days longer depending on academic ability.

OBJECTIVES: Students will recall carbon sources and sinks Students will read graphs and charts Students will manipulate data on an applet Students will make decisions using data Students will synthesize information and create conclusions communicate results Students will understand how carbon sources and sinks effect our climate


NATIONAL STANDARDS ADDRESSED Standard F- Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Natural Hazards

  • Internal and external processes of the earth system cause natural hazards, events that change or destroy human and wildlife habitats, damage property, and harm or kill humans.
  • Human activities also can induce hazards. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes.
  • Natural hazards can present personal and societal challenges because misidentifying the change or incorrectly estimating the rate and scale of change may result in either too little attention and significant human costs or too much cost for unneeded preventive measures.

Risks and Benefits

  • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards.
  • Individuals can use a systematic approach to thinking critically about risks and benefits.
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

Science and Technology in Society

  • Science influences society through its knowledge and world view. Scientific knowledge and the procedures used by scientists influence the way many individuals in society think about themselves, others, and the environment.
  • Scientists and engineers work in many different settings, including colleges and universities, businesses and industries, specific research institutes, and government agencies.
  • Science cannot answer all questions and technology cannot solve all human problems or meet all human needs.


Students should have some prior knowledge concerning the element carbon. They need to know that all living things have carbon in them. They should also understand that though Earth is warmed by the Sun, some heat radiation is returned to the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere absorb this heat energy and radiate it in all directions. This energy radiated downward warms the surface of Earth and the lower atmosphere. Adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere means more heat radiation is captured by the atmosphere and is radiated back to Earth which raises the temperature of our planet.

Students also need some prior knowledge on fossil fuels, what they are, how they are formed, and how energy is released from those bonds.


  • Students go to the following website: http://carboncycle.aos.wisc.edu/
  • Students complete the GCC_worksheet on the GCC website and applet. The will need a “working” understanding of this material to complete the simulation to follow.
  • Explain to your students that they will be involved with a simulation. Begin by reading them the MEMO to Planetary Earth Council Members.
  • Read the Simulation Instructions to students.
  1. Planet Earth needs to install additional energy sources to supplement their current coal fired power plants because at the current time they are not providing enough energy for Earth’s consumers.
  2. According to the Universal Galactic Governing Alliance, the final decision concerning the new, supplemental energy source that must be added cannot significantly increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  3. The Planetary Earth Governing Council has done the preliminary research and has narrowed down the additional energy source options to the following choices: a. adding an additional coal fired power plant. b. adding a wood burning power plant c. adding a wind turbine farm
  4. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide
  5. emissions that would be given off from each energy option being considered.
  • Give students the Dilemmas. They will then analyze the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that would be given off from each new energy option being considered.
  • Your team must utilize the graphs and the materials found in the software package (applet) to analyze these options.
  • You must present your findings and your final recommendations to the Universal Galactic Governing Alliance. These finding must include the impact on climate for each of the above options. Feel free to use graphs, charts, or other props for your presentation.

Download the full lesson plan: A GLOBAL DILEMMA