Monday, March 7, 2011

Lesson Plan: Biodiversity Food Chain Game

If you've been reading my blog for the past couple of weeks, you may have the impression that all we do in our homeschool is to cook and to read picture books!  But that's completely untrue.  Sometimes we play with animals...

In this case, it's a ball python, also known as a royal python for its beautiful colors and patterns.  Actually, this snake, named "Tommy," is one of the Animal Ambassadors from the North Carolina Zoo.  The Animal Ambassadors are rehabilitated animals that can't be put into the wildlife setting of the Zoo, but instead are used for their educational programs.

Here in North Carolina, the state zoo offers a wonderful program for homeschoolers known as the Zoo Club.  For an extremely reasonable fee, they come to our community (all across the state) and do two educational programs, and we travel to the zoo for two others.  The educators there are excellent, and the zoo park itself is large and beautiful.

This year we've been doing a series of classes on the topic of Biodiversity.  One thing that the teacher did in the class today was the Biodiversity Food Chain Game.  To play this game, you need a mixture of photographs of edible plants, herbivores, and carnivores (one for each student) as well as a ball of string. The teacher hands out the photos, then picks up the ball of string and announces she is the sun.  Who has a photo of something that makes its food from the sun?  The students with pictures of a flower or tree or plan hold up their photos, and the teacher tosses one the ball of string, but still holds on to the end of the string.  The first student then tosses it to another student with a plant picture, holding onto a piece of the string as well.  This goes on until all the plant students are holding a piece of the string.  Then the teacher asks for students who have photos of animals that might eat those plants to hold up their photos.  Students with deer or rabbits or mice hold up their pictures, and the ball gets tossed to all of them.  Finally, the students are asked who might eat those creatures, and the same procedure is followed for all the students with carnivores, until all the students are holding a piece of the same string in a web-like formation.

Then the teacher asks what happens if all of one type of life--all daisies, maybe, or all frogs--disappear.  The student with that photo is then asked to let go of the string.  The web becomes limp, and the students have to pull harder to keep a taut web.  Then another species of life is eliminated, and then another.  Each time it becomes harder to fix the web, and the students naturally start moving further apart.  This goes on and on until you get something like this:

With this class, at least, the students were also pulling so hard on the string that it snapped, and the web fell apart completely.

Anyway, she did this with three different ages of children, pre-K up to middle school, and it worked really well with all the age groups.  It was a great way to demonstrate to students how the loss of even a single species creates problems for the entire food chain.  Kudos to the NC Zoo educators for coming up with a way to teach this important lesson to students in a way that they won't forget!

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