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Brief: In this Next Generation Science Standards Aligned lab, students write rules for a game that simulates how a food chain works. They play two games: In Game 1, they play their first iteration of rules, taking 12 rounds of population data, and graphing the data. In Game 2, students play revised rules; tweaking their original set of rules to make the game a better model for a real ecosystem. They, again, graph their data, and analyze the results by answering conclusion questions. This activity is engaging for a variety of levels and ages, and can be edited to meet the needs of almost any learner.
A. NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS HEREIN
DCI’s: LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
LS2.C Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth Systems
Cross Cutting Concepts: Cause and Effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation
Scientific and Engineering Practices:
Analyzing and Data, Developing and Using Models, Using Mathematical Thinking
B. SUGGESTED USES
Prior Knowledge: Students should have a basic understanding of food chains, and how the energy pyramid explains the flow of energy through the food chain. "Animal Cracker Ecology", a product of mine, is a great activity to use before this one.
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"Animal Cracker Ecology" is a great activity to start with before using this product. It is NGSS Aligned.
Get it here: Animal Cracker Ecology
Click the link below to see an entire UNIT BUNDLE on Ecology, including labs, tests, activities, notes, and more. It is NGSS Aligned.
Get it here: Ecology Unit Bundle
Mission to Mars is fun Ecology project, in which students create a self-sustaining mini-ecosystem to feed astronauts on the long trip to Mars. It is packed with Next Generation Science Standards.
Get it here: Mission to Mars
Do you want to grade your class's ECOLOGY test with the click of a button? I created a 50 question Ecology test that grades itself.
Get it here: Self-Grading Ecology Test
Do you want your students to carry out a study to conserve water? Here is a NGSS aligned lab for that.
Get it here: Design a Study to Conserve Water
Implementing the Lesson:
Materials and Setup: All the materials that one needs is included in this download. I suggest printing the pieces on colored paper, wither on card stock, or laminating them. There are quite a few pieces to cut out. To make your life easier, I suggest just having the students cut them out for their group the first time you run this lab. I suggest printing the board out on card stock as well.
1. I like to intro this lesson by talking about models. What is a model? What types of models exist? What can models be used for? Then, tell students they will be creating a model today. Tell them that they will be writing the rules to a game that simulates a functional food chain. Even though this is a fun game, they must keep in mind, that the rules they write are supposed to mimic what happens in nature; that's how models work.
2. Hand out the packet. Have students read the packet, and answer the question about models.
3. As stated above, it is helpful for students to know the basics about food chains and the energy pyramid, in order to write some rules for the game. The other option that works is to have them write rules for Game 1, with no background info. Then, teach about food chains and the energy pyramid, and have them use their new knowledge to write rules for Game 2.
4. Have students get into groups of four, and write rules for Game 1. Circulate the room, and play the role of the facilitator. Nudge them along, but don't tell them the answers. Allow them to write imperfect rules, and see the effects of those in the game...that's the point! Let them talk it out. Each group should have at least slightly different rules if you are doing it correctly. I've included examples in the answer section.
NOTE: If you have a group of three, you have several options:
1. The teacher plays with them (I do that a lot).
2. One student gets to be more than one piece (Just make sure the student is not a predator and prey of him or herself; it won't work)
5. Let them play Game 1. Remind them to take data after each person goes each round (they get into it and forget)
6. They should then graph their results (or just look at the data) for Game 1, and begin to brainstorm new/improved rules. Remind them, the rules should ALWAYS reflect reality, because this is a model, not just a fun game. (Answer section provides examples of more rules).
7. Write their Final rules in the space provided, and play Game 2. Remind them to take data.
8. Students graph their data.
9. CLOSURE: Bring them back together, and talk about trends they saw. I typically like to show them an example of a game in which the lions were too successful, or the grass declined steadily.
"What would happen eventually if the lions are too successful?"
"What would happen eventually if the grass disappears?"
"Where do humans fit into this?" (We are often too successful as predators, leading to the decline/extinction of many organisms).
You could connect it to how the dinosaurs went extinct; asteroid impact = dust in atmosphere = decrease in photosynthesis = less food in food chain = largest organisms starve
10. Have them finish the lab.
My students have a lot of fun with this activity. If yours liked it, there are more like this at my TpT store:
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