The Basics of the Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is the way carbon is distributed in the earth.

In the image, you can see the flow of carbon between land, atmosphere, and ocean. The numbers show, in gigatons of carbon per year, the natural fluxes of carbon (the yellow numbers), the human contributions (red numbers), and stored carbon (white numbers).

Releasing Carbon

Respiration

Humans and other mammals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

Waste and Decay

Carbon can be released into the environment through waste and decay. Animals produce solid waste products that go into the soil and water, while leaves, roots, wood and dead animals decay.

Burning

Burning fossil fuels and wood releases stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Using Carbon

The carbon that is released into the environment is used by many plants and animals. This is the part of the carbon cycle that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Photosynthesis

Plants and algae take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.

The majority of photosynthesis  occurs in the oceans by algae and phytoplankton. Also, due to the large surface area of the oceans, carbon dioxide diffuses in and out in an attempt to equalize.

Shells and bones

Many sea creatures take in carbon when making shells and bones. When these animals die and sink to the ocean floor, this carbon is stored for some time.

Questions

What are your questions about the carbon cycle? What are your students’ hardest questions? We’ll be answering your queries as we explore the carbon cycle more in the next few articles.

Winter Wonderland

Here in Texas, we rarely get snow.

Instead, we can create a winter wonderland–indoors or out–with fake snow!

Science projects with fake snow

  • Create a sensory bin
  • Illustrate the difference between a physical and chemical reaction: after showing your student how the snow absorbs water, let the water evaporate for a few days. The snow powder is the same stuff you started with.
  • Teach the concept of Conservation of Mass. Weigh the snow before adding water. Add water, then let it evaporate. Weigh the snow powder again. It is the same.
  • Demonstrate the concept of absorption

Decorating with fake snow

Fake snow options

Heath Scientific provides two types of fake snow: Magic Snow and Super Snow. Both are a highly absorbent polymer that create realistic-looking snow when you add water.

Super snow also makes a great stocking stuffer!

Giant Ant Farm review


We received a Giant Ant Farm and some harvester ants from Heath Scientific to try.

The Ants

Harvester ants are HUGE. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill tiny sidewalk ants. Even without a magnifying glass, you can clearly see their mandibles and other body parts.

The Farm

The Giant Ant Farm is fantastic for more than one child. The large, double-sided viewing area gives plenty of space for kids to come close and observe the ants.

The only drawback is the base: we’ve accidentally knocked it over a couple times. Then again, we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, so accidents are not unexpected. I expect that older kids wouldn’t knock it over. A large-base alternative–that won’t get knocked over–is the ant hill, which has a smaller viewing area but is more stable.

Taking care of the ants

Ants are low-maintenance. They just require a few squirts of water and crumbs of food. The ant farm came with a year’s supply of food, which makes it easy to feed them.

For all ages

My 4-year-old and a 2-year-old were absolutely fascinated when we set up the ant farm. Elementary aged kids will love the farm, as well–and they will be thrilled to see the tunnels the ants build.

I find it fascinating to watch the ants, too. You can see how they communicate and react to events–like water raining on their farm. It’s unbelievable that, even though no one ant is directing them, they still manage to get communal activities done. At first, they’d dig and refill each others’ tunnels, but now they’ve built several together.

5 Mind-blowing facts about ants

  1. Globally, ants weigh as much as all human beings. Seriously! Ants outnumber humans a million to one and, even though individual ants weigh next to nothing, their combined weight is about the same as the combined weight of all people.
  2. Ants are farmers. Leafcutter ants, like in the picture, aren’t bringing the leaves home to eat. They use the leaves to grow a fungus, which they eat.
  3. Ants herd and milk other bugs. People aren’t the only ones with domesticated animals. Some ants herd and milk aphids for their honeydew. They even protect the aphids from predators.
  4. The people-eating ants in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are real. Or, at least, modeled off of real ants: Dorylus ants from Africa. These army ants march in columns of up to 50 million ants and, like the Indiana Jones ants, kill and eat animals. The real Dorylus ants, however, usually limit themselves to large rats, though they have been known to eat small zebras.
  5. Slavemaker ants starve on their own. Slavemaker ants raid another species of ants, steal their larvae, and use the other species as slaves to care for slavemaker eggs and larave, to get food, defend the nest, and even to enslave more ants. However, the slavemakers are so dependent on other species that without their slaves, slavemakers will starve to death, even if there’s plenty of food around.

Observe your own ants

Try an ant farm or ant hill.

Learn more about ants

This post is part of a series on ants. Join us here and on Pinterest and Twitter to learn more about these fascinating creatures!

Teaching about ants

These resources, sorted by students’ ages, may help you in teaching about ants in your classroom or homeschool.

Pre-K

Ant unit: pre-writing, graphing, counting, craft, the letter A, patterns, and the ant life cycle

Explore ants in the salt tray, Hey Little Ant story, ant snack, and the ant life cycle

Ant egg carton craft

Ant life cycle model

Elementary

Ant lapbook

Ants: pests or pals poll

Ant anatomy coloring page

Ant life cycle model

Ant zoom gallery: see an ant up close

Ant farm

Middle school +

Behavior of Ants 4-week lesson series

AntWeb: database of ant images and specimen records

Ant anatomy

Build a simple ant farm

Hands-on

Of course, one of the best ways to teach about ants is to allow students to experience ants hands-on in an ant farm or ant hill.

Fascinating videos

Sticky feet: how ants walk

Fire ants making a living raft in water

Ants herding other bugs

Excavating a colony

Underwater ant nest

Death spiral

More Resources

Do you have any great resources for teaching about ants in your classroom or homeschool? Share them in the comments!

Learn more about ants

This post is part of a series on ants. Join us here and on Pinterest and Twitter to learn more about these fascinating creatures!