We have found that the game is most effective at engaging students in thoughtful conversations about the dimensions of sustainability and the ecological and economic impacts of individual decisions. The competitive aspect of the game motivates students to "figure out" the underlying mechanics of the game, i.e. what strategies work and why? The role of the instructor should be to facilitate these conversations around one or more of the learning game learning goals to align with her course. By asking probing questions, the instructor can guide students explaining and defending their decisions and strategies, supported by evidence (observations, data, trends) from gameplay and related background knowledge. Through this process, students can explain and revise their conceptual models of how the game world works through multiple rounds of gameplay and experimentation.
The game has been successfully used in a range of courses and with students of different levels, from high school biology through advanced undergraduate economics courses. Instructors can adjust increase or reduce the complexity of the game based upon student levels. The instructor should focus discussion on the concepts and skills that are most relevant to her objectives, whether it be introducing the concept of sustainability, exploring agricultural effects on water quality or introducing supply and demand markets. Because of this breadth and flexibility, we do not outline suggested instruction for every course, but provide some general suggestions for classroom use, discussion, and assessment.
Suggestions for Classroom Use and Discussion:
In most cases, we envision educators using Fields of Fuel as a "warm-up" or "wrap-up" activity in one class period. For example, the game is highly effective for introducing the concept of sustainability. An earth science or environmental science teacher could have students play the game to introduce key dimensions of sustainability and the inherent tradeoffs associated with finding sustainable farming and energy production practices. Alternatively the same teacher might use the game as a "wrap-up" or capstone activity for students to apply multiple concepts learned through the semester, such as cost-benefit analysis, nutrient cycling, energy systems, and human impacts on biodiversity. But the game can be more fully integrated into a course and played multiple times throughout the semester to provide a realistic scenario to explore and discuss these concepts in-depth.
Below we present some general suggestions for facilitating gameplay and discussions in the classroom:
Prior to playing the game, we have found it is best to prepare students with some basic information and discussion about the general concept of biofuels production and sustainability. Some of this information can be found on our Bioenergy Sustainability page. We’ve found that it is useful to outline the basic workings of the system (you grow crops, they are then sold and turned into energy) but leave out some of the detail about specific relationships between their decisions and outcomes (i.e. which crops are good for water quality). This provides an opportunity for them to experiment with the system and figure out these relationships by reasoning about the information they are provided.
It is also import beforehand to go over the basic mechanisms of how to play the game; what your role is, how it is structured into turn-based years, how to interact with the environment, and how the scoring works. Again, it is best not to go into too much detail about the scoring, as you don’t want to completely expose the mechanisms; you want the groups to uncover them using evidence-based reasoning approaches.
Just before playing, it is important to define what the objective is. This can shift depending on the objective of the lesson plan, but typically will be to maximize one of the scored categories of environment, energy, economy, or the composite sustainability score. It can also be useful to have groups formulate a strategy just before beginning the game, potentially even writing it out. This ensures that they have a least a starting hypothesis which they can then evaluate using feedback from the game. The iterative process of forming and assessing these hypotheses based on feedback from their actions forms an integral part of the evidence-based reasoning approach.
During gameplay, we’ve found it’s been useful to stop every few rounds, and inquire individual groups what their strategy is, if it is working, and what they plan to do next. You can try some of the following questions to spark discussion:
- What did you plant? Why did you plant it?
- Has anything surprising to you?
- What do you notice about your score compared to other groups?
- What evidence are you using to make claims about what is more or less sustainable?
- Who is changing what they are planting and/or management decisions and who is keeping things the same? And why? What information are you using to make those decisions?
- What do you think is happening to produce the trends you are seeing in your graphs? Can you explain any dips or peaks?
- How would you change your strategy to make it more sustainable? Is this enough information to help you decide? How do you evaluate if this is a long term sustainable management decision?
Using the scoreboard view on the projector, we can pick out different groups based on their success in a particular category, and examine why (for instance) one group has a high environmental score, and how their strategy and actions compare to a different group with a lower environmental score. This encourages the players to examine their available evidence to unpack the mechanisms behind the results they are seeing.
After playing, it is useful to have a final discussion examining the relative performance of different groups, and why their strategies were or were not successful.
Conversations and facilitated discussion during and after gameplay provide excellent opportunities to assess student ideas about sustainability and their conceptual models about how economic-ecological systems function. The instructor should draw out student ideas through conversation and encourage students to support their statements and models with concrete evidence from the game (trends, graphs, data, scores, etc). This informal assessment of student ideas allows for gameplay to flow naturally while the instructor guides students though experimenting, reassessing and revising their conceptual models based on new evidence.
Instructors can also incorporate a variety of written assessments that target different learning objectives. For example, in some classes, students complete worksheets to explain their decisions and analyze data, after each round of play. Simple pre/post assessments or short reflection papers can be used to assess student learning gains.
See these sample assessment materials organized by learning objective: FieldsofFuel.assessment
Developing curriculum around Fields of Fuel will be an ongoing process as we work with collaborating educators and use the game in new classes. We'll be updating the resources on this page in an ongoing basis.
We are always looking for educators to collaborate on curriculum development around the game. If you would be interested or have ideas/materials that you would like to share. please contact us.