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Educating for a Sustainable Future - Resources

Box 5.4.5: Playing the Ecogame

These notes should be read before watching the section on the Ecogame on the video cassette accompanying these materials. The video has quite deliberately been taken of a teacher new to the game teaching it for the very first time. The pupils are seven and eight year olds.

The video was shot live with no interruptions or re-takes. Some 70 minutes of game play have been edited into 15 minutes of viewing. On the video the game has been broken down into twelve stages which may give a false impression of the time allocated to each stage. You may be a little confused about some of the names used in the video version of the game. We find that younger children respond positively to humorous versions of their biological identity. Thus, Bigmouth is a frog, Smelly a fungus, Wriggly a worm, Yellowtop a dandelion and so on.

1 Establish the nature of the game; to find out how living things work together in the real world.
2 Give a role to each player. Pupils are to be this organism for the duration of the game.
3 Establish the collective identity i.e. particular organisms inhabit particular places, they have a particular ecological niche.
4 Establish, through questioning, how individuals can gather 'food'. This is done in a set (but undisclosed) order, starting with producers.
5 Consumers or Herbivores.
6 Lower Carnivores.
7 Top Carnivores and Omnivores.
8 Decomposers, as each layer justifies their feeding, they are given three (starred) cards to represent their body substance and they write their organism's name on these cards. A problem may arise with fungus as many children will think that these are similar to green plants.
9 Hand out data cards to each character. These list their potential food sources and the organisms that can feed on them. Establish the rules for card exchange. Only one card to be exchanged at each feeding. The new card owner writes their organism's name below that of the previous owner. Starred cards are exchanged first (to speed up the game). Absolute adherence to this rule is critical to the success of the game.
10 Problems will arise during game play. Rules for dealing with these problems should be established. Card exchange starts. The video gives some examples of problems arising and being dealt with. Note that as green plants run out of cards, they can be issued with non-starred cards from the game leader. This stage will take up the greater part of the time (normally about 70-90 minutes) allocated to the game.
11 Timing the end of card exchange. The game leader keeps an eye on the cards held by the top carnivores. When these show complete food chains, i.e. a sequence of ownership commencing with producers through primary and then secondary consumers to top carnivores, the card exchange should be concluded.
12 There are four sub-stages here:
• A model of a food chain is built up from a sequence of ownership recorded on a card.
• The idea is extended to include the non-living environment at the lower end and the decomposers at the top end of this chain.
• The idea of the chain is then developed into a circle to introduce the concept of nutrient cycling in ecosystems.
• Pupils are asked what foods they normally eat and where this food has come from.

The data gathered from the game can be used in many ways. Figure 5.4.9 shows a food web derived from the game. This food web was created by transferring the data from 20 (out of a total of 150) body substance cards used in the game onto one sheet of paper; the food web has been arranged in order of trophic levels. Figure 5.4.10 shows you what an animal diagram, a sample data card and body substance cards look like.

Having played the game or viewed and discussed the video, look at Figure 5.4.9 a food web diagram produced by children after they had played the game. Figure 5.4.9 resembles food web diagrams found in many ecology text books.

Task 1. Play the food chain game in Box 5.4.3. Discuss the flow of energy and materials through this chain. Repeat the exercise, using different organisms.

Task 2. Extend the second chain by bringing in decomposers at the top and the non-living components of the ecosystem, such as rock, below the green plant. Model the cycling of nutrients by making the connection between the waste products of the decomposers and the green plant producers.

Task 3. Play the food web game in Box 5.4.3 by starting with one of the food chains you have modelled previously. Bring in other organisms but this time use string to get the new organisms to connect with all the other organisms on which they could feed. This should quickly become an impossibility! The purpose of the activity is to demonstrate the complex interactions which operate in a living system.

Task 4. Look at Figure 5.4.9. Divide into groups of three or four. Each group should try to predict the impact of a different one of the following events upon a forest ecosystem.

• Local farmers utilise insecticides in the area when plants are in flower. This seriously reduces the population of pollinating insects and has a lesser impact on other insects.
• Acid rain has the effect of reducing growth in plants, particularly tree species.
• The development of international trade introduces an alien pathogen of rabbits, all but eliminating this species from the natural system.
• The growth of intensive agriculture results in the clearance of much natural vegetation cover. Plant growth is largely restricted to a few crop plants.

Section 5.4
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