HHMI Data Point: Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Bob Kuhn; HHMI Biointeractive
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Article , Data , Illustration , Instructor Guide/Manual , Assessment Item
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide is one of a series of Data Point resources from HHMI Biointeractive.  Data Points engage students in analyzing and interpreting data from primary literature in the biological sciences.  The resources provide authentic phenomena to spark student discussion and exploration.  Alternatively they can serve as three-dimensional assessment items or review if the discussion prompt is used after students have learned the concepts.  This resource engages students in analyzing and interpreting data from a primary source, and the teacher guide provides a link to that source (https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/).

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.

Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include simulations and mathematical models.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the specific chemical steps of photosynthesis and respiration.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This Data Point could serve as an opening phenomenon to spark student learning leading up to this Performance Expectation or as partial assessment of the Performance Expectation. The resource is framed as a discussion starter in which students are asked to analyze and interpret graphical data. The Educator Guide provides background for teachers and a set of discussion questions to guide students in connecting photosynthesis and respiration to patterns seen in the graph. The data presented does not represent a model, but it does provide an authentic context for addressing this Performance Expectation. Students could build on this initial learning experience by developing a model to explain the patterns observed in the data.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are asked to analyze changes in the slope of the graph and to connect this to natural or human-caused changes in the environment. This analysis could be extended--and the Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity could be emphasized--by asking students to extend their analysis to data on the various time scales (i.e., from one week up to the full record of 58 years) provided at the link (https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/). The link also provides data from ice cores at different time scales - 1700 to present, last 10,000 years, and 800,000 years.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The initial data presented in this resource exposes students to an iconic dataset related to global climate change and provides an excellent anchor for a series of learning experiences that will address the full disciplinary core idea. Those additional learning experiences would need to address the role of the oceans and geosphere in global carbon cycling. This connection also provides the opportunity to engage students in studying ocean acidification and its effects on marine organisms and food chains.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The discussion questions provided in the Educator Guide focus student attention on identifying cause-effect relationships at the ecosystem level that lead to the global pattern represented by the graph. This could be strengthened by planning additional learning experiences that allow students to develop deeper understanding, based on empirical evidence, of these cause-effect relationships. For example, collecting data on carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in a closed model ecosystem, like a terrarium, could provide empirical data to support student understanding.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This Data Point provides opportunity for analysis of data about an authentic phenomenon that could anchor a series of three-dimensional learning activities. In this case, a preliminary discussion would allow the teacher to expose students’ initial ideas before facilitating student exploration of the phenomenon through additional learning activities. Alternatively, this resource could be used as a formative assessment of student learning following other learning experiences. In either case, the resource may be strengthened by combining it with other learning experiences.

  • Instructional Supports: By using data from a primary source, this Data Point provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning. This resource is written as a discussion prompt, and a whole-class discussion would provide one venue for the teacher to hear student ideas and give feedback on those. However, the resource is not a full lesson. As a result, it does not provide a full range of instructional supports, such as opportunities for students to build on feedback, guidance for differentiation, and scaffolds to support students in engaging in practices or applying crosscutting concepts. The teacher will need to incorporate these supports while building a full instructional sequence around this resource.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Whether it is used formatively or summatively, the Data Point offers an excellent opportunity to gather evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. Although the data is pulled from a primary research article, the selection of data and the supporting information provide much greater accessibility than the original source. A rubric is not provided, but the Educator Guide does provide the background information needed to assess and support student responses. The teacher may want to to consider embedding formative assessments and developing associated rubrics when planning a full instructional sequence.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource, although the link to the original research article does enhance the value of the resource.