Teaching Science

Apr 2017

In Our Time: Johannes Kepler

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary motion Kepler developed transformed people's understanding of the Solar System and laid the foundations for the revolutionary ideas Isaac Newton produced later. Kepler is also thought to have written one of the first works of science fiction. However, he faced a number of challenges. He had to defend his mother from charges of witchcraft, he had few financial resources and his career suffered as a result of his Lutheran faith.

Linked in the grade 9 space unit.

In Our Time: Parasitism

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are mistletoe and trees, hookworms and vertebrates, cuckoos and other birds. In many cases the parasite species do so well in or on a particular host that they reproduce much faster and can adapt to changes more efficiently, and it is thought that almost half of all animal species have a parasitic stage in their lifetime. What techniques do hosts have to counter the parasites, and what impact do parasites have on the evolution of their hosts?

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.

In Our Time: The Kuiper Belt

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Kuiper Belt, a vast region of icy objects at the fringes of our Solar System, beyond Neptune, in which we find the dwarf planet Pluto and countless objects left over from the origins of the solar system, some of which we observe as comets. It extends from where Neptune is, which is 30 times further out than the Earth is from the Sun, to about 500 times the Earth-Sun distance. It covers an immense region of space and it is the part of the Solar System that we know the least about, because it is so remote from us and has been barely detectable by Earth-based telescopes until recent decades. Its existence was predicted before it was known, and study of the Kuiper Belt, and how objects move within it, has led to a theory that there may be a 9th planet far beyond Neptune.

Linked in the grade 9 space unit.

In Our Time: The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years more, with the surface of seas in the Arctic being as warm as those in the subtropics. There were widespread extinctions, changes in ocean currents, and there was much less oxygen in the sea depths. The rise has been attributed to an increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, though it is not yet known conclusively what the source of those gases was. One theory is that a rise in carbon dioxide, perhaps from volcanoes, warmed up the globe enough for warm water to reach the bottom of the oceans and so release methane from frozen crystals in the sea bed. The higher the temperature rose and the longer the water was warm, the more methane was released. Scientists have been studying a range of sources from this long period, from ice samples to fossils, to try to understand more about possible causes.

Linked in the grade 10 climate unit.

In Our Time: Pauli’s Exclusion Principle

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose Exclusion Principle is one of the key ideas in quantum mechanics. A brilliant physicist, at 21 Pauli wrote a review of Einstein's theory of general relativity and that review is still a standard work of reference today. The Pauli Exclusion Principle proposes that no two electrons in an atom can be at the same time in the same state or configuration, and it helps explain a wide range of phenomena such as the electron shell structure of atoms. Pauli went on to postulate the existence of the neutrino, which was confirmed in his lifetime. Following further development of his exclusion principle, Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945 for his 'decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature'. He also had a long correspondence with Jung, and a reputation for accidentally breaking experimental equipment which was dubbed The Pauli Effect.

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics page.

Pandemic Board Game

Can you save humanity in this cooperative game where deadly viruses are spreading across the globe? Together, you will treat diseases, share knowledge, and fly all over the world to prevent outbreaks and slow down the epidemic. The fate of humanity is in your hands!

  • Easy to learn and teach.
  • Adjust the difficulty for a more, or less, challenging game.
  • Multiple roles and variable setup make every game different.

This classic from Z-Man Games is more game than simulation, but it manages to get across some of the aspects of combatting a global pandemic.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.

Black Death Board Game

Black Death is a humorous and macabre little board game about life in the Middle Ages, circa 1400AD, during the height of the Plague. Each player takes the role of a different disease, and whoever wipes out most of Europe wins! Loads of fun for 1 to 30 million people, though 3-4 players gives best results.

Black Death includes a 4 page rulebook, a four-color map, player aid cards and a bunch of die cut counters. It requires two six-sided dice, and a slightly twisted sense of humor, which you have to procure on your own. The map represents 14th century Europe, major cities and the trade routes between them. Each player chooses a disease of a given virulence and mortality, and tries to spread as fast and wide as possible before the people carrying their disease either recover or die. The more of your counters on the map, the more you can score, but scoring means that some of your population dies, removing those counters from the map, making it a self-balancing situation. Players can also use action cards based on historical events to modify diseases or alter travel patterns. All in all, it is educational, tacky and fun.

Black Death is an exceptionally nice print-and-play game from BTRC. I’ve run it as a long-term game, one turn per class, with the board and counters magnetically attached to the whiteboard.

Warning: Do not play this game near rats, fleas, or anyone who has recently returned from Central Asia.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.

Optics Matching Quizzes

A set of six quizzes, matching terms with definitions, with two versions of each quiz. Answer keys are included.

Linked in the grade 10 physics page.

Food Forest Card Game

Food Forest is a unique, fun deck of cards that can be used to play games based on natural, organic gardening. Food Forest games help adults and children understand how plants interact - both in a garden and in the wild. Players learn about companion planting, the layers of a forest, beneficial insects, and principles of permanent agriculture, or Permaculture.

This deck comes with instructions for two games that can be played with the cards. More games can be found online, and you can even design your own! This deck is also an inspiring tool for designing your own food forest.

This is an excellent fit for the ecology unit. Although the plants are those found in New England, that’s similar enough to Ontario for many of our students — and there are blank cards so you can add local plants if you want.

The game is available in both hard copy and print-and-play versions.

Linked in the grade 9 biology page.

Quark Soup Card Game

A set-collecting game for 2-5 players. Have fun learning the physics of quarks!

Collect one meson and one baryon to win the game. Build a barrier of quarks to protect yourself, but beware annihilation attacks, photon excitation and quantum entanglement in the world where even reality is uncertain!

No knowledge of particle physics is required!

Another card game about quarks. Maybe it’s an artifact of google, but there seem to be more games about quarks than any other part of physics.

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics page.

Quarkle Card Game

Quarkle is a game of making particles out of quarks by adding up their charges.

In this game, the players get to put together quarks to make many different particles (both mesons and baryons).

For ages 4+ you can play the game with no knowledge of particle physics or adding fractions or being able to read.

For high schooler physics classes learning about particle physics and the emergent behaviours of the quark interactions, the game helps them understand the difference between baryons and mesons and gives them practice finding the charge of particles by adding their quark or anti-quark components.

Finally, the game can be played in an advanced mode involving quantum chromodynamics and the “colour charge.” In this way, it can be fun and competitive for all ages and levels of scientific knowledge.

Soon there will also be an expansion pack that adds electroweak interactions, Feynman diagrams, force-carrying particles, the Higgs Boson, etc… keep watching for further additions to enhance this “nerd-tastic” game.

This is a fun little game. The designer is selling it at cost so it’s affordable (but like all print-on-demand products, it still costs more than a mass-produced deck would cost).

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics page.

PhyloBoreal Card Game

PhyloBoreal is an ecosystem card game about the boreal forest. Players use their cards to build and cause disturbances to a communal food web. The winner is the player who gains the most species points by creating a stable and diverse food web.

PhyloBoreal is a customized version of a card game called Phylo developed at the University of British Columbia. PhyloBoreal was designed by yours truly, Elly and Jonathan, because we think the boreal forest is a landscape of incredible beauty, importance, and diversity. We hope you will too!

The price of this game covers only the cost required to produce each deck—no profit is made. Please consider donating, or at least signing the petition at Boreal Birds Need Half [
www.borealbirds.org] to help protect the boreal forest!

The artwork on these cards is top-notch, and as much of Ontario is covered by boreal forest this game could easily find a place in the ecology unit.

The special action cards in PhyoBoreal include stewardship as well as exploitation, adding a political dimension to the game. Can you use Legislation to counter a Pipeline or Road? Play the game and see how it works out!

Linked in the grade 9 biology page.

Xtronaut: A Space Exploration Game

Do you have what it takes to put together a space mission and race through the solar system? Identify your mission target and put together the right combination of rocket parts and spacecraft to achieve mission success.

Each player selects a Mission Card from the deck. This card determines the player’s mission — the mission destination, type of spacecraft needed, the amount of Delta-V needed to achieve the mission, the potential to obtain gravity assists, and the points earned for completing the mission. Each player needs to collect the Playing Cards that give them the right spacecraft, first and second stage rockets, and matching fairings. Gravity assist and solid rocket booster cards are available to provide additional Delta-V if needed to complete the assigned mission. Once the mission is complete, the player earns the points for the mission, which varies based on the size of the spacecraft and the target, and starts work on their next mission. The Action Cards add real-life issues to the game that space missions often encounter — project cancellations, audits, government shutdowns, and other exciting twists and turns.

XTRONAUT®: The Game of Solar System Exploration is a board game that is easy to learn, and gives 2 – 4 players ages 7 and up the chance to develop space missions, build authentic rocket systems, and explore the solar system. Designed by Professor leading major NASA OSIRIS-REx space mission, the game is fun and engaging, but also exposes players to space science concepts related to planning and undertaking a real space mission — complete with full color education workbook that explains game scientific concepts.

I haven’t tried this in the classroom myself, as I haven’t taught grade 9 science since I bought it, but it’s a fun game. The play is simple and a four person game takes about half an hour.

You could also use it solo as a tool for designing missions: students could sort through the cards and select the parts they need, looking at the tradeoffs between different options.

Linked in the grade 9 space page.

New Page: Science Games

I’ve added a page to collect all the science games in one place, partly because I’m giving a seminar at the 2017 OAPT Physics Conference and I wanted to up-to-date list to point people to.

Page is here.

ION: A Compound Building Game

ION: A Compound Building Game is a simple card drafting game where players select from a number of available ion cards and noble gas cards, with the objective of forming either neutrally charged compounds or sets of stable noble gases.

How to Play
Each player is initially dealt eight cards. They choose one card and pass the remaining to the player on their left, while they receive the same amount of cards from the player on their right (this is commonly referred to as “card drafting” or “pick and pass”).

Selected cards must be either (1) bonded to another ion or (2) set alone. Players only score points for neutrally balanced cards. So a positive charged Sodium (Na+) bonding with a negatively charge Chloride (Cl-), forming a neutral NaCl compound. would score points.

Points are scored at the end of each round and player may gain additional points for building specific compounds listed on the goal cards for that round. After three rounds the player with the most points wins!

The game comes with multiple expansions including a Transition Metals expansion, a Polyatomic Ion expansion, and a Radioactive Card expansion.

This game take a different approach to my own Ionicompounds game.

Linked in the grade 9 chemistry page and the grade 10 chemistry page.

Covalence: A Molecule Building Game

Covalence is a chemistry-themed cooperative game where players work together to accurately build a number of secret organic molecules. One player has knowledge of a set of Secret Molecules. All other players must deduce what these secret molecules are, based upon clues given to them. Players must cooperatively construct their molecules before the clues run out!

How to Play
One player takes on the role of the “Knower” while all other players then become the “Builders”. The Knower has access to a number of Secret Molecules and will give the Builders clues about these as they attempt to identify their structure. After setting up the Clue cards in front of her, the Knower will randomly designate 3 Secret Molecule cards for each Builder (4 Secret Molecules if there is only one Builder). Each Builder then takes a set of Element Tiles that bear a variety of elements and bonding patterns.

The Knower must study the Secret Molecules designated to each Builder and then give each Builder clue cards that relate to their specific Molecule!

Each Builder must interpret these Clues as they arrange and rearrange their individual Element Tiles, attempting to deduce the structure of their Secret Molecule.

Builders may request new Clues from the Knower as the game progresses with their limited supply of Clue Tokens.

When the Builders think that the molecular structures they have built match their Secret Molecules, they submit their structure to the Knower with a Guess Token.

If the Builders submit their molecular structures and are wrong, they have exhausted precious resources and are that much closer to losing the game.

If the Builders submit their molecular structures and are correct, they receive more Clue Tokens as a reward and may begin building their next Secret Molecule! If each Builder is able to correctly build both of their Secret Molecules, everyone wins!

You don’t need to know chemistry to play this game. I don’t teach organic chemistry, but I think this might be useful as a light-hearted review.

Linked in the grade 12 chemistry page.

Linkage: A DNA Card Game

In Linkage, each player links RNA cards side-by-side to build their own RNA strand, attempting to copy the shared DNA Template (in biology, this process of copying is called DNA Transcription). Players decide whether to build on their own RNA strand, repair their RNA strand, or mutate an opposing strand (or the template itself.) Players earn points based upon how accurately their RNA strands match the DNA Template, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins!

This is a free print-and-play game from Genius Games. To get it you have to sign up for their mailing list, but as the only emails they send are announcements of educational games that’s not a bad deal!

Linked in the grade 12 biology page.

Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game

A board game taking place inside a human cell! Players compete to build enzymes, hormones and receptors and fend off attacking Viruses!

Players utilize the organelles within a cell to collect cellular resources such as mRNA from the Nucleus, Lipids from the Smooth E.R., ATP from the Mitochondria, etc. and score points when they use these resources to complete Hormones, Receptors or Enzymes!

2 to 5 Players, Ages 10 & up, Plays in 50 to 75 mins

Currently a Kickstarter campaign, Cytosis is fully funded and expected to ship in August 2017.

Linked in the grade 12 biology page.

Peptide: A Protein Building Game

Players compete to link Amino Acids side-by-side, building what’s called a Peptide Chain (another fancy word for a protein). In order to build this protein, players must first make a set of thoughtful selections from a number of openly available Organelle Cards. Selected Organelle Cards are removed from that round’s available options, creating an interactive open-card-drafting mechanic.

(Only available through pre-order. Peptide will be shipping in May and June of 2017)

This one looks interesting, but I’m not certain how closely it links to high school biology. The rules are downloadable from the web site, so if you teach biology check it out.

Linked in the grade 12 biology page.

Virulence: An Infectious Card Game

Virulence is an addictively quick and simple card game for 2 to 5 players, that plays in 15 to 20 minutes. Players take on the role of viruses and compete to infect a host cell in order to replicate their own viral components allowing players to build their power or score points!

How to Play Virulence
All players simultaneously place secret blind bids which determines the order in which they select from the available Viral Component cards. Players want to be one of the higher bidders in as many rounds as they can, but the real challenge is to do so without wasting their best bidding cards.

The Viral Component cards won may help a player to build the power of their hand, allowing them to win critical bids later in the game, or combine in sets scoring points in a varying number of ways.

This is a fun little game. I’m not certain how much educational value it has in a biology course, but it makes a nice science-themed game.

Linked in the grade 12 biology page.


Some of the biggest questions in the world of science may be answered by studying quarks, the smallest of particles. The problem with trying to study quarks is that you can’t find just one quark; you need to find them in groups called hadrons, or some other exotic particles, like the Pentaquark.

In the game, you are trying to give science a little helping hand by collecting the 5 quarks that form this particle at the detector of a massive particle collider. Move cards you need to the detector, discard others so they may come back as anti-quarks, and try to minimize the number of quarks scattered and lost. If too many cards are removed from the game, the Pentaquark has slipped through undetected once again!

Pentaquark is a single player game designed by Mike Mullins with art by Fabrice Weiss. Gameplay lasts 15-30 minutes (you will immediately want to play again) and recommended for ages 12 and up.

This is a fun little game. I’d recommend spending the extra $2 and getting all the expansions.

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics page.

Quark Matter Card Game

Quarks and leptons, such as electrons, muons and neutrinos... Sounds a bit scary, doesn't it? With the help of this booklet, you can get into touch with the incomprehensible world of elementary particles. This is not just a usual booklet: it contains a set of 66 cards, and describes six games with them. The cards represent elementary particles from the Standard Model. You can play family style memory games with particles and their anti-particles, have fun with Quark Matter, the perfect fluid of quarks. You can even find your own Higgs boson and win one of the games on the spot. It is fun to have elementary particles in your hands, or, in your pocket! The games scale very well, recommended from 5 years old to adults.

This is a bit of an odd product. It’s as much a pamphlet on quarks as it is a game (or games). Still, at less than $5 for the PDF it can be useful for curious students.

Linked in the grade 12 modern physics page.