Group Plan: Carbon Storage and Forest Plants

Driving Questions:  How much carbon is really sequestered in a hectare of rainforest?  What type of vegetation is most appropriate and feasible to use for carbon offset purchasing to mitigate climate change? 

Plan: Teachers will use the TEAM protocol to calculate the carbon stored in a small sample area of rainforest, disturbed rainforest, and at a banana or coffee plantation.  The small sample area values will be extrapolated to determine carbon stored for a hectare of each of the three categories of land use.  Students in Texas will then use the same protocols to calculate the amount of carbon stored in a hectare of native Texas forest, “disturbed” forest, and farmland or ranch land.  Students will compare the data they collected with tropical data, and determine the effects of both climate and land use type on the ability of an ecosystem to sequester carbon. Students will then need to determine the most feasible type of land to use for purchasing carbon offsets as a tool to mitigate climate change. Additionally, students will research companies that purchase carbon offsets (BP’s “Target Neutral”, Costa Rica’s “Nature Air” Airline), determine what they do to purchase them, and calculate if the company is actually offsetting as much carbon as they claim based on student and teacher carbon capture data.

Learning Goals:  An inquiry approach will be used throughout this project.  Students will be in charge of designing experimental procedures to calculate the total carbon stored in different Texas environments using the TEAM protocol.  Using collected data, students will analyze the connection between climate type, land use, and the ability of each ecosystem to sequester carbon.  Finally, students will evaluate the economics and practicality of allowing different land areas to be purchased for carbon offset purposes.

How this expands current curriculum:  Nutrient cycling, climate change, mitigation strategies, and identifying and classifying plants using dichotomous keys are all current topics covered in our classes that would be enhanced as a result of our project.  Specifically, nutrient cycling is a topic that students tend to struggle with – the concepts are challenging and students have a hard time understanding the relevance of the material. A hands-on, engaging project would greatly expand student understanding and retention of concepts important in biogeochemical cycles. Having students critically evaluate the relationship between ecosystem type and carbon sequestration will give them real-world examples of the benefits and challenges of using different types of climate change mitigation strategies.

District Collaboration:  Because our district is classified as high-needs, each month subject team leaders from each high school meet as a cohort to discuss innovative lessons and district curriculum alignment.  This cohort is an often-utilized way to share outstanding lessons, and would be a tool we could use to easily disseminate our project district-wide.

Additional Campus/Community Impact:   Tree Folks is a local non-profit group that comes to schools to help students identify tree type using dichotomous keys, then calculate the carbon stored in the tree based on tree type, age, and size.  Because a member of our team has worked with them before, they would be a resource we could use to assist other district teachers implement this project, especially if other teachers had limited knowledge of carbon sequestration.

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