The first month of AP Environmental Science at Conserve is a unit entitled “Welcome to Lowenwood”. This unit concludes with a sequence of lessons that look into the interactions of the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of an ecosystem. One of the lessons, named “Life and Death in the Forest”, asks students to engage with ecosystem processes in a very physical way. To the outside observer, the lesson would appear to be nothing more than an exciting game of tag played throughout a forest plot, but the students are actually participating in a simulation meant to reinforce the relationships between predator and prey.
There are three kinds of organisms that the students could be, herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores. During each round, individual students need to collect two water resources and two food sources specific to their status as herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores. If a student collects all their resources and does not get consumed (tagged) by another student, they survive to the next round. Tagged students become the same kind of organism that tagged them to simulate population growth.
Nature centers across the country use this activity as a population dynamics introduction for younger learners. At Conserve School, we can take more advanced ideas and apply them to what is happening in our simulated ecosystem. The students can also think critically about how this simulation falls short of reality and what kinds of elements could be added to make it more realistic. This lesson is followed by one that analyzes the species interactions researched in the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, the longest running ecological study of its kind.
Photos contributed by Leanna Jackan