After we planted trees at Black’s Nook this fall, we could hear students excitedly talking about “their” trees. There was enthusiasm, a sense of accomplishment, and concern in the conversations going on in the room. Kids wanted to know what was going to happen to their trees and began describing ways they could protect them. There was a consensus that we should walk to Fresh Pond every day to make sure everything was okay.
A vital part of understanding how trees grow and thrive is to understand how ecosystems work. Part of our science curriculum is a card game called the Web of Life. It is designed to help students begin to see how living organisms form communities and that these communities are intricately interconnected. We realized that this would be a good time to introduce this game to the class, to help them get a sense of how the trees we planted fit into the big picture and how important these trees are to ecosystems.
In the game, students learn how to describe and differentiate living organisms into three categories; producers, consumers, and decomposers. According to the rules of the game, one needs producers to begin building an ecosystem because producers are the only organisms that make their own energy using the rays from the sun. Once you have producers, then you can add on consumers, who need to get their energy from other organisms. Finally, in order for the system to recycle nutrients and matter, decomposers break down dead matter. Kids quickly got the hang of the game and played with a lot of enthusiasm.
As we processed how the game was going,students thought of ways to make the game more realistic. Some talked about how we could create cards to reflect how humans impact ecosystems, like a hunter card or a farmer card. Some speculated that we could create new cards that described changes in climate or environment such as hurricanes or volcanoes. We also talked about ways to introduce the idea of how pollution and recycling affect ecosystems. The more we talked, we realized that our arborists were, in fact, building a complex and detailed model of how ecosystems work. We won’t be able to check on our trees every day, but we realized that there are many ways we can support our local ecosystems.