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Human Energy Systems

Carbon TIME: Human Energy Systems Unit

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2018-19 Field Test Version

The Human Energy Systems Unit builds on student learning in Systems and Scale, Animals, Plants, Decomposers, and Ecosystems Units about organic and inorganic materials, how all systems exist at multiple scales, and transformation of materials and energy during chemical change. In the Human Energy Systems Unit, students focus on how three carbon–transforming processes (photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and combustion) work in global systems to balance carbon pools and fluxes. Overall, this Unit has four important goals for student learning:

  1. Using knowledge of representation, generalizability, short-term variation, and long-term trends to interpret large-scale data sets related to climate change;
  2. Relating changes in carbon pools to the balance of movement of carbon between these pools;
  3. Relating carbon emissions to energy use;
  4. Relating local systems, actions, and choices to global effects and future outcomes.

Lead Editor for 2017-2018 Version

Kirsten D. Edwards, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Principal Authors

Hannah K. Miller, Department of Teacher Education, Northern Vermont University

Wendy Johnson, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Jenny Dauer, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Beth Covitt, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Montana

Craig Kohn, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Bonnie McGill, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas

Charles W. (Andy) Anderson, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Contributing Authors

Jennifer Doherty, Allison Freed, Marcos Gonzales, Christa Haverly, Lindsey Mohan, Elizabeth Xeng de los Santos, Elizabeth Tompkins, Alex Walus


Craig Douglas

This research is supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation: A Learning Progression-based System for Promoting Understanding of Carbon-transforming Processes (DRL 1020187) and Sustaining Responsive and Rigorous Teaching Based on Carbon TIME (NSF 1440988). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the United States Department of Energy.

This unit is also available online at Contact the MSU Environmental Literacy Program for more information: