Bioenergy Farm Game

Tim Meehan Robyn Kademan
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.



In this board game, players take on the role of bioenergy crop farmers trying to earn a living while being good environmental stewards.  In the process, players explore the economic and environmental tradeoffs associated with growing different bioenergy crops (corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, and native grassland). The game also serves as an engaging way to explore a range of environmental issues and ecological interactions related to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, water quality and sustainable agriculture. The goal of the game is to plant and manage a farm so as to make money and create positive environmental impacts while respecting chosen values and goals.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • High School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-2 Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conservation, recycling, and reuse of resources (such as minerals and metals) where possible, and on minimizing impacts where it is not. Examples include developing best practices for agricultural soil use, mining (for coal, tar sands, and oil shales), and pumping (for petroleum and natural gas). Science knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems—not what should happen.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity introduces students to bioenergy, more specifically biofuel. Students get a short background on ethanol and its production from corn grain. They are introduced to the idea of using alternative crops as biofuel and using the whole part of the corn. Students are given a guide to the four different crops that could be used to create biofuel; corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, and native grasses. Each crop has a playing card identifying its cost-benefit ratio through yield, profits, costs, fertilizer use, pesticide use, erosion/nutrient runoff, biodiversity, CO2 emissions, and recreation value. The game board has squares that are required tasks, catastrophes, and wild cards. These squares require students to make decisions based on their chosen set of values. The winner of the game is the student who earns the greatest combined income and e-points (protecting their environment) after 2-4 years (trips around the board).

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
Throughout the game, students are constantly having to refine their crop decisions based on various constraints placed on them as they travel around the gameboard. Students must evaluate their crop decisions to create the best designed farm which will yield the best profits with the least environmental impact. They prioritize their goals in order to determine what tradeoffs they need to consider when making changes to their farm.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Game cards include economical information, dollar amounts, and environmental information, (e-points) which students keep track of using a spreadsheet. Students are given a farm board where they plant five crops, of their choosing, based on a cost-benefit ratio to try to have the highest income with the greatest e-points (least environmental impact). The goal is to travel the game board where they are faced with certain tasks which require them to alter their crop choices. Students must use the mathematical representations of their crops (dollar amounts and e-points) to help drive their decisions of what they think (their claim) will be the best combination of crops to win the game.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students can earn extra e-points by making sure their farm is desirable to others for recreational use. This requires that students make sure they use a variety of crops versus a monoculture. Students are rewarded in the game both economically and environmentally by making sure they are diversifying their fields. While sustainability of human society is not a focus, the importance of farming for crops used to create biofuels but also crops for food could be discussed after students play the game. Further investigations into farming techniques to make sure we have enough food for all humans while preserving our environment could be done after completion of a few rounds of the game.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are focused on what benefits (economic and environmental) and least risks (economic and environmental) will help them win the game. They need to react to changes to their environment (pests, seasons, rainfall) and regulations (chemical) on the gameboard to try to generate the most income and least environmental impact. Students are also required to consider recreational activities that may occur around their farm (bird watching groups, photographers, and canoe tourists) which could lead to increased environmental stewardship points.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students evaluate how their farm did after each trip around (year) the game board. They adjust their farm’s crops before starting their second trip around the game board. This is done for a total of four trips, years, around the game board. Students need to look at the crop's’ performance to determine if they want to change crops or keep them. They make changes in order to increase profits and lessen environmental impacts.

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The game acts as a model for how farmers have to adjust for changes to their farm (system) in terms of energy changes (sunlight for plants) and matter flows (chemicals, water, carbon cycling, and wildlife). Students keep track of the changes and make adjustments according to their mathematical information for economic and environmental impacts.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The game requires students to use two practices, using mathematics and computational thinking and constructing explanations and designing solutions, to continually reevaluate their crop decisions to improve their profits (benefits) and reduce their environmental impacts (costs). In order to be successful and win the game, students must use both practices to make their decisions. The disciplinary core ideas, natural resources and human impacts on Earth systems, play a role in how students need to change their crops when presented with requirements on the game board and wild cards. While human impacts on Earth systems is not explicitly covered, students still must consider how to responsibly manage their farm to ensure the fewest amount of environmental impacts occur. The use of natural resources is more explicitly covered, where students must consider tradeoffs to create a farm that will ensure they win the game. Student must use crosscutting concepts of patterns and systems and system models to be successful in the game. If students are not able to recognize patterns, they will not be able to correctly adjust their farm from year to year in order to be more successful. Students use mathematical information about their system to identify the patterns.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged, during the play of the game, in all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. Students must think about what changes they need to make in order to improve their economic and e-points to win the game. There is no requirement that students share their justifications of crop changes after each round of the game. This could be built into the game in order to increase the rating in this section. If students are required to give their rationale for changes they make, if any, each round, they would also be doing the engaging in argument from evidence. There is a game playing guide, but no additional teacher instructions. There are no suggestions to differentiate the game for struggling students. No suggested extensions are provided for students with high interest are provided. Potential suggestions to differentiate for students would be to give struggling students one or two crops to start them off with in year one. Students with high interest could have the number of available plots increased which would require them to consider more variables, or have them reach a certain target profit or environmental points.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers will have to monitor student progress after each round by going from game to game in the classroom. No rubrics or scoring guides are provided. The teacher would need to develop a scoring guide. A potential base score for economic and e-points could be determined that students must reach in order to show they have used all three dimensions of the next generation science standards. Another possible way to increase this portion would be to require students to explain through writing the changes they made to their farm including the justification for the change.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no technological requirement to this activity.