Farming for Ecosystem Services

Contributor
D. Fegan, S. Magnoli, B. McGill
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Simulation , Game , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Teacher-fellows at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University  designed this board game to engage students in three-dimensional learning as they explore the phenomenon of human impact on biodiversity and the environment. Students use the game to model/simulate an ecosystem as they decide how to invest money to create a farm that will not only be financially profitable but also enhance ecosystem services. To play the game, students design a farm within a woodland. The game provides them with eight different ways to use each of six potential lots. Information is provided about costs, ecosystem services (or disservices), farming, and potential profit. Drawing cards at random, students are further constrained by additional costs due to climate, pests, and disease. The resource includes a lesson plan, a presentation, and game printouts. The game is based on a scientific journal article, which is linked on the resource webpage.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS4-6 Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on designing solutions for a proposed problem related to threatened or endangered species, or to genetic variation of organisms for multiple species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The game is structured so that students can only make a profit if they enhance the ecosystem functioning of the ecosystem they are farming. The game is intended to be played twice, modeling a two-year farming cycle. This design provides students an opportunity to revise their land usage for the second “year”. Teachers may want to emphasize that good decisions must be made during the first year in order for the students’ farms to be profitable enough to farm the land for a second year. Slide 36 of the presentation has discussion questions that teachers can use to help students revise their farming plans.

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The point of the board game is for students to design a profitable farm that reduces human impact and enhances ecosystem services. Teachers may want to encourage students to carefully consider tradeoffs on the “Croptions Menu” as they plan their farm for the first of two “years”. After the students have completed one year of the farming cycle, they can share their experiences with each other prior to designing the farm for the second year. In this way, they can learn from others’ failures and successes. At the end of the game, a discussion that connects the game to real-life situations will help to anchor the students’ learning about human impact on ecosystems. The lesson plan offers additional ideas for modifying the game itself, which students may want to do as they consider options beyond what the game offers.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Teachers may want to emphasize that the game models the relationships between the different components of the ecosystem they are farming. One way to provide evidence of students’ understanding is to ask questions about how each component impacts ecosystem services. Slide 2 of the presentation introduces vocabulary that may help students clearly articulate these relationships. Each student choice of a farm unit option (see “Croptions Menu”) has an impact on how well the ecosystem as a whole functions. Students should be encouraged to explain how each choice impacts the system One way to do this may be to use a flow chart.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The game engages students in the process of designing, evaluating, and refining a solution to the problem of enhancing ecosystem services by best farming practice. Teachers may want to begin the lesson by asking students to clearly articulate the problem the design of their farm plan is trying to solve. Students may answer that they are trying to make money. The importance of ecosystem services should be emphasized from the start. After articulating the problem, offering students the opportunity to brainstorm several possible solutions would help ensure that students are thinking about solutions as they start the game.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This board game engages students in making decisions about using land for farming in ways that enhance ecosystem services. Adverse impacts are represented by costly choices in the “Croptions Menu.” Teachers may want to start the lesson with questions like, “Do you think that all people depend on ecosystem services?” or “Do you think people that live in cities depend on ecosystem services? Why or why not?” Questions like these will reveal students’ thinking about human dependency on the living world. At the end of the game, the same questions could be asked to assess if students have grown in their understanding of this critical relationship.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Although the game is designed to allow only sustainable farm plans to be profitable, teachers may want to encourage students to evaluate how their choices within the “Croptions Menu” ultimately affect the profitability of their farm plans. Questions such as, “How well do you think your choices about spending enhanced the ecosystem functioning of this woodlot ecosystem?” will help students to evaluate their solutions. Do they think the assigned costs are worth the expense? Why or why not?

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Teachers may want to emphasize that the game is a model of a real-world phenomenon. The purpose of the game should be made clear - to help students understand the value that ecosystems provide to humans. Human impacts can either enhance or undermine these essential functions and services. Students can be encouraged to make predictions based on their two-year growing cycle results, and then to take the game through a third growing year to see if they are accurate in their predictions. Teachers may also want to explicitly discuss with students the limits of this board game in predicting farm profitability. What are the assumptions and approximations inherent in this model?

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In the lesson plan, teachers are encouraged to provide opportunities for students to share their thinking as they explain the choices they made about their farm plans and why they think they got the results they did. Teachers can also use the provided discussion questions (slide 36 of the presentation) to help students construct explanations about how different choices resulted in the failures or successes of their farm plans. Teachers may help students to connect their failures or successes with the concepts of stability and change with questions like, “Do you think that the choices you made from the Croptions Menu stabilized or changed the ecosystem?” A gallery walk is also recommended as a way for students to extend their thinking and modify their explanations.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This game does an excellent job of incorporating three-dimensional learning into students’ explorations of the phenomenon of human impact on a woodlot ecosystem. Students make sense of this phenomenon by selecting a variety of farming options and considering both economic and environmental constraints to the design of their farm plan to enhance ecosystem services and functions. The lesson plan could be strengthened by more clearly connecting the purpose of the game to a real-life situation, by including questions to elicit prior student understanding, and by providing more opportunities for students to ask questions.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson plan, website, and additional resources provide good instructional support. Clear learning goals, alignment to the NGSS, background information, and additional resources all support instruction. In addition, ideas about extensions, modifications, and assessment are offered. Instructional support could be strengthened by including sample student answers to the discussion questions, explicit identification of required student prior knowledge, opportunities for students to both represent their ideas and to respond to peer and teacher evaluation, and ideas about differentiated instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The game does elicit evidence of student three-dimensional learning in the development and use of the game to create a sustainable farm plan and the provided discussion questions. Teachers will want to consider embedding formative assessment questions throughout the lesson and also spend time listening to students as they make choices about their farm unit options. The lesson could be improved by the addition of more scoring guidance, including an answer key to the discussion questions, and by providing more accessible options for students of varying abilities.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.