Photos courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Dana Veron
August 18, 2021
UD students and professors raise awareness of carbon cycle science
Even for students of a graduate level physical meteorology course at the University of Delaware, sometimes the best way to visualize such an abstract concept as climate change is to resort to an interactive activity.
This is what Associate Professor Dana Veron discovered five years ago when she first introduced the ‘The Incredible Journey of Carbon’ activity to her class and saw their jaws drop as they recognized the impact of the post-industrial carbon cycle on the environment.
Typically, on the first turn, the pipe cleaners contain long sequences of black and / or blue beads that show how long carbon has residence times in the lithosphere and hydrosphere.
The game is played twice, once to show the carbon cycle of the pre-industrial revolution and once to represent the post-industrial carbon cycle. This change occurs by swapping the post-industrial lithosphere die, while the other three dice remain the same.
On the pre-industrial die, there are five out of six sides that require players to âstayâ in the lithosphere. In the post-industrial sector, there are two faces that say âstayâ and four that say âGo to the atmosphereâ. Thus, it is much easier for the player to leave the lithosphere and go to the atmosphere in the post-industrial scenario. This represents the extraction of carbon from the lithosphere, much of it in the form of fossil fuels, which is then burned and depositing carbon in the atmosphere.
As a result, there are more clear marbles, representing the atmosphere, on players’ pipe cleaners and fewer black marbles, representing the lithosphere, compared to the first round.
Then the students discuss what they think happened to make the outcome different between the first and second rounds of the activity.
Melissa Rogers, co-author of the article, now a senior curriculum developer at the Smithsonian Science Education Center, said that an interesting aspect of the activity is seeing the reaction of students participating in the game as they notice always that during the second round of the activity, something is different.
âThis seems to be the meaning that the participants have. Something is wrong. Something is not working properly. Something doesn’t turn out like the first time around, âRogers said. âI think it’s good that it then continues with a conversation to find out what’s wrong with the situation. It’s almost an emotional feeling of what’s going on and realizing, it’s not just the game, there’s a problem here on Earth.
Take the activity on the road
With the activity having such a big impact on the weather class at UD, Veron and Orr were eager to see how the game would play out with a group less informed about climate change and its impacts on the atmosphere.
After reactivating the American Meteorological Society (AMS) chapter at UD in the spring of 2016, Orr said part of the chapter’s mission was to develop awareness and education for neighboring high schools and they have decided to use the âThe Incredible Carbon Journeyâ activity at these schools.
Orr contacted her high school’s AP Environmental Science teacher – Kathy Freeman at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pa. – and tried the activity at her alma mater. It was such a success that AMS student members at UD visited the AP Environmental Science course each semester and presented the activity as well as a lecture to the students.
âEach time, the students really got involved,â Orr said. “It was great to take this activity that I participated in at UD and use that connection to make it an awareness activity.”
The AMS student chapter then introduced the game to other schools. They introduced the activity to Newark Charter biology classes as well as the annual Newark Charter Intermediate School âDinner with a Scientistâ event. AMS students even taught the activity in classes for different UD faculty members, and Orr took the activity with her when she was working on her masters at the University of Georgia.
âI was teaching an introductory physical geography lab, and we’re doing a climate change lab,â Orr said. âIt started out as just reading and answering questions, so I brought it with me. As far as I know, they still do this in Georgia because I left all the gear. ”
Veron will use the activity in a Delaware Sea Grant internship program taking place this summer to train science specialists on how to teach science. The activity is one of many activities that will be used as models on how to do an activity in a K-12 situation as well as a way to teach climate change.
Additionally, Veron has been contacted by other Delaware schools who wish to tailor the activity to their classes. She said it shows the flexibility of the model and how it can be used in K-12 classrooms as well as college courses.
âIt’s a model that can be adjusted to fit a lot of different situations,â Veron said. âTeachers in local schools are excited to invite students to talk to their high school students. It’s powerful for these students to talk to someone who is only a few years older and is interested in this material that they are really passionate about. I think it’s inspiring.