Fields of Fuel is being developed as a flexible classroom instructional tool to teach students about the complexity of sustainably growing crops to produce biofuels, such as ethanol. Although the scenario of the game is related to biofuel production, the game serves as a case study to consider the broader meaning of sustainability and the challenges associated with achieving sustainable outcomes. Through game play, students can learn about fundamental concepts in environmental science, economics and agriculture that apply more broadly to explain the functioning of other managed natural systems such as forests, farms and lakes. In addition, successful game play requires experimenting, interpreting graphs, and adapting strategies—all essential and widely applicable skills.
We have designed and tested Fields of Fuel primarily as a tool for facilitating critical conversations about sustainability and the issues and processes associated with producing crops for biofuels. In a typical scenario, the instructor frames the sustainability goal, sets up a class game and students play in pairs debating their farming decisions and larger strategy. The instructor can pause the game every few rounds to prompt whole-class discussion about strategies, observations and game outcomes. Worksheets can be used to guide students organizing their strategies, predictions, observations and explanations. As such, we have found that the game works especially well as a “warm-up” or “wrap-up” activity for class units on topics related to sustainability, natural resource management, ecosystems, economics, renewable energy and agriculture.
During game development and testing, we have played the game with a range of students, educators, and researchers. In general, the response to the game was overwhelmingly positive; players found the game both enjoyable and engaging. Beyond just being “fun,” the game has also supported students and teachers in having critical conversations about sustainability that are grounded in data.
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