Teaching Science

Bios:Megafauna (game)

Mutate, Speciate, Populate

You are a phylum of life — mollusks, insects, vertebrates, or plant-fungus hybrids — starting at the invasion of land 450 million years ago. Your goal is to dominate the planet, mutating your nervous, circulatory, digestive or reproductive systems and speciating into flying, burrowing, swimming, and armored species. This allows your species to become the apex carnivore or herbivore as the forests and swamps fill with tentacled squirrels, cud-chewing slugs, zombie flies and other chimeras. Through an optional climate model of carbon, water, and oxygen cycles, as well as drifting continents, you battle the climate as well as other players. Maps for Venus or Mars are included, back when they still had oceans and possibly life.

Bios:Megafauna comes with 8 "continents" that can drift around, 160 mutation cards, 140 wooden laser-cut creeples of flying, burrowing, swimming, and armored creatures, various tokens of fossils and monsters, 110 wooden cubes, 42 climate disks, and 20 dice (mainly to track creature size). For the full game, there are 3 latitude strips and a climate board that tracks oxygen, clouds, and greenhouse gases. The game is the second game of the "Bios" trilogy, which can be played together or separately.

Players: 1-4
Age: 12+
Playing Time: 2 hours
Complexity: high

I picked this one up because I liked Phil Eklund’s original American Megafauna game from the last century (literally: it was published in 1997). This is a very different game on the same theme, presented with gorgeous Euro-style components.

Like Bios:Genesis I wouldn't use this in the classroom, but as a supplement for interested students. Playing a few games and using the results to discuss contingent evolution would be fascinating!

Linked on the grade 11 biology page.

Bios:Genesis (game)

The first 4 billion years of life on Earth.

The Earth has seen dramatic events: lava oceans, a great collision that formed its moon, the filling of the oceans by impact bolides, the riding of continents with plate tectonics. Among these noisy events, life got started, perhaps many times and in many forms. The players, representing “soup ingredients”, must find a sheltered refuge in order to start autocatalytic cycles and accumulate catalysts. Once they achieve templated reproduction, they can share their progress by swapping genetic material or becoming parasites or chimeras. The game ends in the Cambrian Explosion, with the advent of multicellular life and the invasion of the land.

Solitaire, competitive, and cooperative play options. This is the first game in the Bios:Trilogy, being followed by Bios:Megafauna 2 and Bios:Origins 2. The Bios games are linked yet independent.

Contents:
  • 60 Cards illustrated by Karim Chakroun
  • 16 oversized placards, for bacteria and refugia
  • 48 disks representing catalysts, enzymes, and antioxidants
  • 64 wooden cubes for manna & chromosomes
  • 16 wooden domes for bionts
  • 12 six-sided dice, used for autocatalytic and Darwin rolls
  • Rules and historical background, 68 pages
  • Folding player aid

Players: 1-4
Age: 14+
Playing Time: 1-2 hours
Complexity: high

Another cool game I found on Kickstarter, now available in retail (although from Germany, where Phil Eklund has relocated). Phil designs rich games that thoroughly explore a setting, at the cost of fairly high complexity. As such I wouldn't use this in the regular classroom. If you have a gifted class, or students who want to play it after school, I think they could learn a lot.

You can get a good idea of what Bios:Genesis involves on the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/684398802/bios-genesis-2nd-edition-begin-evolve-conquer

Linked on the grade 12 biology page.

Foldscope: An Origami-Based Microscope

Foldscope is an ultra-affordable field microscope, that you build from common materials such as paper. It is designed to be produced affordably, to be durable, and to give optical quality similar to conventional research microscopes. With magnification of 140X and imaging resolution of 2 micron; Foldscope brings microscopy to new places. Be it your kitchen or a mountain top. Compatible with almost all camera phones.

I backed this project on Kickstarter and just assembled it in the last week. It’s pretty amazing and I’m looking forward to spring when I can bring it along on hikes. I picked up both the deluxe kit for myself and a classroom kit for use at school.

The deluxe individual kit is designed to allow any curious explorer to perform microscopy experiments anywhere at anytime. This kit includes Foldscope (140x, 2um resolution microscope) in a portable and sturdy metal case including a plethora of tools for collecting samples, processing samples, preparing slides and directly collecting data on any cellphone via universal couplers - all possible while working in field settings.

Every deluxe kit includes:
  • One Foldscope Assembly Sheet
  • Two 140X micro-lens (one extra lens)
  • Four magnetic couplers including cellphone attachment module
  • LED illumination module with integrated magnifier for bright-field, dark-field and oblique phase imaging (button cell included)
  • Diffuser stickers for light module
  • Reusable sealable PVC slides with micro-wells and plastic coverslips
  • Calibration/measurement grids
  • Nylon filter sheets (5, 25, 100 micron spacings) for cell separation
  • Stainless steel mesh filters (1mm and 300um mesh size)
  • Custom sample collection ziploc bags
  • Two eppendorf tubes for sample collection
  • Plastic tweezers and plastic pipettes
  • Prepared two test sample slides, three blank slides and slide storage box
  • Field notepad with field guide and pencil
  • Ultra clear roll of tape for making quick slides
  • Complete assembly instruction sheet (English) with folding and usage instructions
  • Sturdy metallic box for storage, field work with integrated instrument tray
  • Small blunt end metal scissors
  • Unique Foldscope Identification sticker code for access to Microcosmos community website (http://microcosmos.foldscope.com)
  • Color stickers for labels

For those looking to get the most for their dollar, we offer the Basic Classroom Kit (BCK), which includes twenty (20) individually packed basic Foldscope kits.

The basic classroom kit is designed to supply a classroom (or other group) of 20 students with a Foldscope for each explorer. Each student receives the essentials (Foldscope, cell-phone coupler, assembly/instruction sheet, carrying pouch, paper and tape slides), and some accessories are provided collectively to be shared amongst the entire class.

  • Foldscope (140x lens) x 20 sheets
  • Cell phone coupler x 20
  • Paper/tape slides x 20
  • Instruction sheet x 20
  • Customizable individual nylon carrying pouch x 20
  • 1 LED/Magnifier with bright field, dark field and oblique phase imaging with magnifier (button cell included)
  • 1 Slide box with two pre-made glass slides and three blank glass slides and storage box
  • 1 Field guide

The biggest weakness of the classroom kit is that the included cell phone couplers need to be stuck to a cell phone with a double-sided sticker. I need to play around and see if there’s a way of temporarily mounting the couplers. (I can also see them disappearing over the years, so it would be nice to be able to reorder them as spare parts — something that is not currently possible.

Linked in the grade 10 biology unit and grade 11 biology page.

Biome Builder Card Game

In Biome Builder, your mission as an ecologist in training is to build a food chain from plants to apex predators- think algae to great white shark in the ocean. A biome is a community of plants and animals unique to a habitat. In this game you have 4 different habitats in which you start building a biome: the Amazon Rainforest, the Sahara Desert, the Pacific Ocean, and the American Prairie.

Everyone in the habitat has a job that helps make their environment a great place to live. In this game that job is eating… Stack plants and animals to build a food hierarchy and the player with the highest banked stacks wins!

This fast paced game is 2-4 player and takes 15 minutes to play. Each player creates food chains (biomes) in four different environments and banks their biomes for points. After going through the entire deck the player with the highest set of banked biomes wins.

Each player has two fields to build their biomes in and may bank a biome at any time. Each biome begins with a plant card. After a plant you must play a herbivore and omnivore. Then players can play predators and apex predator cards. Cards are labeled from 1-5 (plant to apex predator) and an ideal stack goes from 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5, but that is not required to bank a stack. If someone stacks all cards from 1-5 they get an additional 10 points when adding scores. What kind of biomes will you build?

I backed this game on Kickstarter because it looked intriguing. It’s aimed at children younger than our grade nines, but the simple rules make it easy and fast to play. At the high school level I'd make the game a class project, dividing the students into teams to design cards for different biomes. In Ontario that might be Boreal Forest, Freshwater Lake, Deciduous Forest, and Tundra.

Linked in the grade 9 biology unit.

Peak Oil Board Game

Welcome to the near future. Welcome to Peak Oil: A game about Crisis and Profit.

You are the top manager at one of the big oil companies, tasked with leading your enterprise into a future without oil. With peak oil looming ahead, you try to squeeze the last drops from oil fields around the world to gather the resources to invest into various oil replacement technologies. While you may try to emerge from the coming crisis by regular means, your competitors will most probably not, forcing you to dirty your hands as well.

Peak Oil is an eurotrash-style game of worker placement, set collection and push your luck for 2 to 5 players of ages 10 and up. Games last around 45 to 60 minutes.

This game isn’t a perfect fit for the curriculum, being more about politics and business than science, but it makes a fun diversion. I would use it as a supplement for interested students. (I backed it on KickStarter and haven’t had a chance to try it in my classroom yet.) If you teach an immersion science class you’ll be pleased to know you can get it in English, French, Spanish, and German versions.

At €45 it’s rather expensive for the classroom, especially when you add shipping from Europe, but the artwork is wonderful.

2 Tomatoes Games is currently making a print-and-play version available for free, which is very generous of them.

Linked in the grade 10 climate unit.