Ecosystem Game

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SWBAT identify what organisms within an ecosystem compete for and how their population is affected if their needs are not met.

Big Idea

Students become the predators and prey in this game to see who can survive.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This: 

Unit 3 addresses standards related to the transfer of energy and matter between organisms in an ecosystem.  The unit begins with identifying what solar energy is and what two forms of energy solar energy provides life on Earth.  This is an important foundation for understanding standard 5-PS3-1: Use models to describe that energy in animals' food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  We build on this knowledge throughout the unit in other lessons related to photosynthesis and how animals use the energy they get from food.  In this unit students will also be conducting experiments to gather evidence to support their belief that plants get the materials they need for growth from either water, air, or the soil.  This is covered in standard 5-LS1-1: Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water. Students will also be creating food chains and food webs to describe the movement of matter among organisms in an ecosystem.  This is covered in standard 5-LS2-1: Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

I combined these three standards all into unit 3 because teaching them together allows students to see how they are all connected.  The energy that plants get from the sun is stored in their parts until animals consume them.  Plants cannot absorb this energy and reproduce without other materials from the environment such as carbon dioxide from the air, and water and nutrients from the soil.  The animals that consume the plants, use part of the energy for growth, reproduction, etc. but they also store some of the energy.  That energy is then passed on to other animals when they are eaten by other animals.  All of the energy that is available in an ecosystem can ultimately be traced back to the sun.  Teaching all of these standards together, instead of in isolation of each other, makes that connection easier to see.    

This specific lesson addresses standard PS3-1: Use models to describe that energy in animals' food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  Students become part of the model by representing food, shelter, water, prey, and predators in an ecosystem.  I ask them to trace the flow of energy from the predators through the entire ecosystem ending with the sun. 

Lesson Goal: 

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to identify what all organisms need to survive, and describe how competition for these items affects the populations in an ecosystem.   Through the activity I will also be assessing their ability to trace the flow of energy from a predator back to the sun.   

Success Criteria:

Students will demonstrate success of these skills through the answers they give during the question/answer portion of the game.  

Preparing for Lesson:

Warm Up:

  •  We are playing a game identifying predator/prey relationships that does not require any materials or preparation. 

Rules for Playing the Game 

Playing the Game 

  • Copy the Tags for Predator-Prey Game on colored paper.  I make 5 copies of each page so that I have 10 of each tag. I copy the predator on red, prey on yellow, food on green, water on blue, and shelter/space on orange.  
  • I laminate all tags and punch two holes in the top.  
  • I string yarn through the tags and tie it so that it makes a necklace that students can wear while playing. 

Warm Up

10 minutes

Identifying Predator/prey relationships 

To begin today's lesson, I have all students stand up in a rectangular shape around the perimeter of the room.  I ask the class to tell me what a predator is and what a prey is.  Many hands go up, I call on one student who tells me a predator hunts another animal and the prey is being hunted.  

I explain to to them that we are going to name some predator/prey relationships.  I will begin by naming an animal.  The person next to me has to name an animal that would be a predator to the animal I named or a prey to the animal.  They must also say predator or prey.  Then the person next to them says an animal that would be a predator or prey for that organism. For example:

I say rabbit - the person next to me says owl - predator.  The person next to them says mouse - prey.  The person next to them says snake - predator.  Etc.  

If students are not able to come up with an animal or name the wrong predator or prey, they are out of the game and must sit down.  

Setting Up for Today's Game

The ecosystem game we are playing in the main part of today's lesson has students designated as the predators and others designated as the prey.  By starting the lesson with the introductory game above, I  am familiarizing students with predator/prey relationships, in the hopes that it will help them be prepared for questions asked later.  Prior to beginning each round in the ecosystem game later, we will be identifying and discussing a predator/prey relationship so it is important that students understand the relationship and can name several examples. 


Rules for the Game

5 minutes

How To Play the Predator/Prey Game

I explain to students how to play the game before we go outside.  Having them sitting at their desks, listening to the directions, provides a better opportunity for students to be successful at the game.  If I wait to explain it outside before we play, students are sitting with their friends talking, looking around at what else is going on outside, and less likely to pay attention to the details of the game.  If I see students doing the wrong thing outside, we will review the rules again outside. 

This game is similar to tag. There are students that will be designated as the predators (anywhere from 1 - 3 students).  I do not select these students at this time, I am only going over directions right now.  The only task that the predators have, is to catch the students that are designated as the prey and tag them out.  The predators can run during the game. 

There are several students designated as the prey (between 3 - 6).  These students are all competing with each other to obtain the things they need to survive, all while trying to avoid being eaten (tagged out) by the predators.  The students that are the prey in the game, must run out into the field and get food, shelter/space, and water and bring them all back to the starting point without being caught by the predators.  They must bring each item back one at a time. I give an example of this so that it is clear to students.  If I am the prey, I will run out to the field, get a water, run back to the starting point with the water, and drop it off.  I will then run back out to the field and get a shelter/space, run back to the starting point with it, and drop it off.  I will then go back out for the final thing, food, and bring it back to the starting point. Students can collect these items in any order.  The prey can run during the game.  

Students who are not playing as a predator or a prey, will be designated as the food, shelter/space, and water.  Students who are representing food for the prey are allowed to walk around the field  and hide, but cannot run.   If tagged by a prey, they must run back to the starting point with the prey, and are then out of the game.  

Students who are representing the water,  must find a place in the field to stand.  They cannot walk or run.  If tagged by a prey, they must run back to the starting point with the prey, and are then out of the game.  

Students who represent the shelter/space, must find a place in the field to stand.  They cannot walk or run.  If tagged by a prey, they must run back to the starting point with the prey, and are then out of the game.  

The number of food, shelter/space, and water change in each round.  If any prey survive the round, that student will remain a prey, and will get to reproduce, increasing the number of prey by one.  I usually let the surviving prey choose what students will be prey with him/her.  

If you would like to have a visual of the directions while you go over them you can print the How to Play the Predator Prey Game resource. 

Playing the Game

45 minutes

Playing the Game

My students always love playing this game and after teaching it, they often beg me to play.  The first time we play, it takes the entire hour of class and we spend a lot of time setting up the scenerio before each round.  After we play it a couple of times, I start using their 30 minutes of PE/Listening once a week to play a condensed version where we don't go over each scenerio in as much depth.  It is more structured then just letting them play at recess during this time and they are practicing skills while they play. 

I print the Tags for Predator-Prey Game different colors of paper, laminate them, punch two holes in the top of each tag, and put yarn through the holes and tie it to make a necklace so students can wear the tag during the game.  I copy the Predator on red paper.  I copy the Prey on Yellow paper.  I copy the Food on green paper.  I copy the Water on blue paper.  I copy the Shelter/Space on orange paper.  

I carry all tags outside with me.  Once we all get outside, I designate a space as the meeting area and ask everyone to have a seat.  I tell them that this will be the area we meet back at after every round to discuss the next scenerio.  I ask questions to set up the scenerio for the game, or review what happened in the previous round.  As students answer questions, I let them choose what they want to be, this encourages them to participate because they all want to be the predators or prey.  In this video I am assigning roles for the ecosystem game as I ask some questions.  As students answer correctly, they select their role and stand to the side to continue listening.  I give the prey about a 15 second head start before letting the predators go.  Here are some sample questions I may ask before each round:  

  • What is an example of a predator for our game? (This is asked for every game)
  • What would the prey for this predator be? (This is asked for every game) 
  • Explain how the predator in the game gets energy from the sun. (This is asked for every game)
  • In this game, there will be a shortage of water, what is a shortage of water called? (drought, where I only designate 2 or 3 waters)
  • What would an animal have to do to survive if there is not enough food, shelter, or water, in the area they live? (move to a new location)
  • Can you name another animal that they prey may be competing with for food besides each other? (depends on the prey that was identified) 
  • Can you trace the flow of energy through this ecosystem beginning with the sun? 
  • What would happen to the energy after the predators all die? (decomposers would replace nutrients in the soil for plants to use again)

This is a video of the students playing the ecosystem game.  They really enjoyed it and have begged me every day since to take them out to play it.  

Alternative Way to Play 

I have also played this game where I designate all students as a predator (4-6 students), and the rest prey (14 - 16 students).  I set up 3 hula hoops out in the field and place orange balls in one, blue balls in another, and yellow balls in the third hoop.  The orange balls represent the shelter/space, the blue represent the water, and the yellow represent the food.  I change the number of each available so that there isn't always enough water available for all prey (drought), and sometimes not enough food available for all prey.  I say go and all the prey take off to get the items they need to survive.  They can still only collect one at a time, bring it back and drop it off, then head out to get another one.  The students love being the predators and preys but don't always enjoy being the food, shelter/space, and water.  After we play it the regular way and I go over questions setting it up with them a few times, I will change and start playing it this way.  I do not spend time asking all the questions in this format.