Human Energy Systems | Unit Overview

The goal of the Human Energy Systems unit is to introduce students to carbon cycling at a global scale and the implications of human fossil fuel use for climate change. Students:

  • Investigate patterns of change in Earth systems (global temperatures, global sea levels, Arctic sea ice, atmospheric CO2) and use the Greenhouse Effect to explain how increases in greenhouse gas concentrations drive changes in other systems;
  • Explain how three key fluxes (photosynthesis, cellular respiration, combustion of fossil fuels) affect the atmospheric CO2 pool;
  • Explain how human actions affect CO2 fluxes; and
  • Predict effects of changes in human actions on the atmospheric CO2
The Research Base

Carbon is the key! In the unit, students learn to tell the story of how matter and energy are transformed as they move through human energy systems. A particularly powerful strategy for explaining how Earth systems transform matter and energy involves tracing carbon atoms. For more information about the Next Generation Science Standards disciplinary core ideas included in this unit see the sections on the Large Scale Four Questions below and the Unit Goals

Research base. This unit is based on learning progression research that describes the resources that students bring to learning about human energy systems and the barriers to understanding that they must overcome. It is organized around an instructional model that engages students in three-dimensional practices.