Resource Type
Completion Time
About a week
High school and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Susan Steiner
Computers, one per student is ideal, but the lesson can be done with fewer.
Guided notes for each of the three animations, including student worksheets and answer keys
Lesson Plan for using the Interactive Model on the website
Organisms and Their Environments
Earth Science
Climate Change


IMOLD is a highly interactive website designed by Drs. Michael N. Weintraub and Daryl L. Moorhead in collaboration with the Center for Creative Instruction at the University of Toledo. Susan Steiner, PolarTREC teacher with Dr. Weintraub on the expedition, Tundra Nutrient Seasonality, collaborated on IMOLD’s design. Other teachers have contributed wonderful classroom activities that can be found posted on the website. In this four part lesson, students learn from animations that teach them about the carbon cycle, leaf anatomy, and microbes, all in the context of plant litter decomposition. Students then apply their knowledge in a model of decomposition that uses real data that students can manipulate as they pose and answer questions about variables that affect rates of decomposition.


Students will gain a better understanding of carbon cycling, especially in the context of litter decomposition. Students can manipulate climate types and litter types in the interactive model, and apply concepts they have learned about carbon cycling. Students will understand that studying the decomposition part of the carbon cycle is important for understanding factors that affect climate change.

Lessons Preparation

Students should have background knowledge of basic chemistry, as well as familiarity with biological processes such as photosynthesis and respiration. This lesson is perfect for inclusion in a unit about climate change, biogeochemical cycling, or ecology. The animations can be used for understanding topics such as microbes and enzymes or leaf anatomy in a different context than is normally covered in high school science classes.


Students will view, take notes on and respond to the questions accompanying the three animations all referenced in the PDFs associated with this lesson. Upon completion, they are ready to work with the interactive model. Part Four (also in PDF) leads the students to ask testable questions and carry out their own investigation using the model.


Students can pursue further research about the litter materials and ecosystems used in the interactive model. From the Litter tab on the model page, information about each species of litter is provided with links to the climate range and growing information about each plant. Students can use this information to learn about different biomes and their key indicator plants.
Additionally, the IMOLD site includes a variety of teacher submitted lab and classroom activities.


The Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment Team (LIDET)

UCAR - The Greenhouse Effect
UCAR Center for Science Education


Students will have completed the guided notes corresponding to the animations. Additionally, they will have completed an investigation using the interactive model and presented their findings through the medium of their choice.


Lesson created by PolarTREC Teacher Susan Steiner at: ssteiner76 [at]

The IMOLD Interactive Model of Leaf Decomposition is authored by Drs. Michael N. Weintraub and Daryl L. Moorhead in collaboration with the Center for Creative Instruction at the University of Toledo.

Many thanks go to Dr. Michael Weintraub of the University of Toledo for giving me the opportunity to provide input on the IMOLD project. I also so appreciate the work of Graduate Research Fellow Mallory Ladd at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She worked with the Tundra Nutrient Seasonality Project at Toolik Field Station. Mallory’s chemistry work inspired my lesson plan, as I learned firsthand how chemistry comes alive in the context of climate change fieldwork. Her assistance with the details is much appreciated!


Lesson Plan - General Set-up PDF
Animated Lessons from IMOLD
Part One: The Carbon Cycle, Student Copy and Teacher Copy
Part Two: Leaf Anatomy, Student Copy and Teacher Copy
Part Three: Microbes and Enzymes, Student Copy and Teacher Copy
Part Four: Interactive Leaf Decomposition Activity


See PDF of applicable NGSS standards.

Standards Other

See PDF of applicable NGSS standards.

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.