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Ecosystems | Activity 3.2

Activity 3.2: The Carbon Dice Game (30 min)

Students play the roles of individual carbon atoms going through carbon-transforming processes in an ecosystem. Key ideas include (a) carbon-transforming processes in individual organisms (eating, digestion, biosynthesis, photosynthesis, cellular respiration and death/defecation) move carbon atoms from one carbon pool to another, (b) carbon atoms visit some pools much more often than others, and (c) the game is a model of how atoms move through ecosystems—like real ecosystems in some ways and unlike it in others.

Materials You Provide

  • Containers to put twist ties in (one for each pool)
  • Die (1 for each student)
  • Pen/Pencil (1 for each student)
  • Yellow twist ties (at least 300)

Resources Provided


For Activity 1, print at least one copy of the 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Posters, 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Tally Cards, and 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Energy Labels and set them up into 5 “pools” about the classroom. Put the twist ties in a container at the Atmosphere pool and empty containers at each of the remaining pools. Have the dice ready to distribute to students (either singly or in pairs). Print one copy of the 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Tracking Sheet for each student. Prepare a computer to show the presentation and record tally card results in 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Class Results Spreadsheet.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.

Show slide 2 of the 3.2 Carbon Dice Game PPT.


During the discussion after the game, formatively assess how well students are able to make connections between the pools in the game and the charts that are generated from the graph. If they do not see the connection, you may want to spend time helping them understand the different representations.


You may want to print more than one copy of the 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Posters, 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Tally Cards, and 3.2 Carbon Dice Game Energy Labels. Printing multiple copies allows more students to visit each pool at one time.


Have students play the dice game in pairs instead of as individuals.

Extending the Learning

Use Slides 12-13 to explain that the Carbon Dice game was a model, and therefore has some limitations when representing actual ecosystems. Ask students to brainstorm ways that a real ecosystem differs from the model ecosystem and share their ideas with the class. Slide 13 offers several examples of how the model ecosystem differs from a real one.