Discussion Questions and Activities for Rivers of Sunlight

Discussion Questions

For all students:

  1. How did tiny green plants that lived in the sea billions of years ago change Earth forever?
  2. How are oil and coal made? What is the origin of the energy stored in these substances?
  3. How long did it take for fossil fuels to form? How long have we been burning them? Does this matter, and if so, why does it matter?

For older students:

  1. There has been a tiny imbalance in the cycle of life over the history of Earth. How has this made a big difference in our atmosphere, and how has that changed the whole planet?
  2. How is burning fossil fuels similar to the respiration of animals? How is it different?
  3. How is the planet likely to change if we continue to burn fossil fuels, and what measures might we take to slow these changes?
  4. How is the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere different from the “pre-human” changes?

The questions above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards R.1,2,3,4,7,8,10; SL.1,2


The Greenhouse Effect

Adding CO2 to air raises its temperature in the presence of light energy. A number of lesson plans demonstrating the greenhouse effect can be found on the Internet. One of these lessons (found here:

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/atmos/ll_gas.htm) is adapted below.

Before performing the experiment, discuss with your students what they think might happen. Afterward, discuss what did happen and why, based on what they learned from the book and other research.


  1. Fill two clear one-liter bottles halfway with water. Put a stopper with a thermometer through the middle in one so the recording end is suspended in the air of the bottle. Record the temperature.
  2. Drop 2–3 Alka-Seltzer tablets into the other bottle. The bubbles produced are made of carbon dioxide (CO2), which break as they rise into the air, filling the air with CO2. Put the stopper and thermometer into the hole and measure the temperature of the air.
  3. Turn on a lamp and direct it toward the bottles, making sure both are the same distance from it.
  4. At the end of an hour, check the temperatures in both bottles. The temperature in the bottle with the added CO2 should be considerably higher than the one without.

A video demonstration can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwtt51gvaJQ

A more complex demonstration can be found here: http://cleanet.org/clean/community/activities/c2.html

This activity can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards W.7,8; SL.1,4