In BAESI’s new “Carbon Travels–Then and Now” lesson plan and simulation, students play the role of carbon atoms to learn about the carbon cycle and how it is changing. Adapted from the Carbon Travels activity at STEM Earth Central, students create two carbon cycle diagrams—visual models of the cycle before and after the Industrial Revolution. They reflect on the game and how scientists believe humans are impacting this critical Earth system. Numerous Enrich / Extend activities are listed to help you meet the needs of all learners, including ideas for student projects and a detailed reading titled
“The Fast and Slooow Carbon Cycles” that is appropriate for high school chemistry classes and other more advanced students.

Guiding Questions

  • How is the carbon cycle changing due to human activities?
  • How are changes in the carbon cycle altering
    Earth’s climate and other systems?
  • How can we help restore balance to the carbon cycle?


  • Students will participate in two simulations of the carbon cycle: before and after the Industrial Revolution.
  • Students will create two models of the carbon cycle representing how it has changed since the Industrial Revolution.
  • Students will create written explanations of their models to demonstrate their learning.
  • Students will explain how human activities have been changing the carbon cycle orally and in writing.

The lesson is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) & Common Core State Standards, as well as California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts. It can be easily adapted for other grades and non-formal education settings, as well. We hope you and your students enjoy the simulation and other activities and we’d love to hear your feedback!

Model showing storage and flows of carbon on Earth in gigatons