When asked to name fossil fuels, many students are able to list coal, oil, and natural gas. However, many students have trouble understanding where fossil fuels come from. In addition to this confusion, students may have trouble linking the carbon that was originally in ancient living things to the carbon in fossil fuels. The idea that the carbon used now in fossil fuels also existed millions of years ago is a difficult concept for students to wrap their minds around. It may also be hard for students to understand how long it takes fossil fuels to form. Long periods lose meaning for children as numbers begin to exceed thousands to millions of years.
Watch this video of 6th grade students in South Gate, California—a coastal community. The purpose of this classroom video is to see students discuss what fossil fuels are and how they relate to carbon.
For additional classroom context, video analysis, and reflection opportunities, read the Picture of Practice page for "Fossil Fuels and Carbon" in the Changing Climate Environmental Literacy Teacher Guide, page 50.