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Tyto Ecology, a life science ecosystem simulation game, can provide countless hours of fun and learning for students in middle or high school. The game itself includes a number of achievements to challenge students, but it also provides plenty of opportunity for creating your own class goals. Some ideas include:
- Challenge students to capture screenshots of certain things, such as baby jackrabbits or swarming moths, using the Photo Mode option.
- Set the biodomes to make different amounts of time pass between game sessions, and have students record what changes have taken place in their ecosystems over that time.
- Have students aim low to create an ecosystem that stays balanced for at least a year (in game time), with the fewest types of life possible.
- Similarly, see how many different types of life can be introduced, including large animals such as bison or elephants, while also maintaining a balanced ecosystem for over a year (in game time).
- Encourage your students to develop their own goals.
Tyto Ecology is an ecology simulation game where students build their own biodomes filled with plants, animals, and fungi in an effort to balance each ecosystem. The base game comes with three biomes to choose from: Mojave Desert, the Great Plains, and the Amazon Rainforest. Expansions are also available for the Himalayan Forest, Alaskan Tundra, and Cretaceous Mongolia (which includes dinosaurs). As students add life to their biodomes, they must balance producers, consumers, and decomposers in their own built-from-scratch ecosystem. If the balance is off, plants or animals will die. Biodomes are divided into zones that are unlocked one at a time, teaching students to start small and work up to more elaborate webs of life. The gameplay in each newly created biodome starts off slowly, since in-game currency limits the rate at which students can add new items. But after enough items have been placed, the action gets more complicated and the game increases in difficulty.
The game's tutorial orients students to the game's options, but then they're mostly on their own; a Biodex does reference the plants, animals, and decomposers within the game, explaining how each one interacts with its surroundings, such as diet, predators, habitat, life cycle, and more. There's also a glossary for terms used in the game. There are two in-game currencies that are used to unlock and place items: a form of power that regenerates over time and is counted separately in each biodome, and a system of Tyto coins that can be earned through achievements and through time spent playing the game. Players can also set up their biodome in such a way that up to a year can pass between visits, so when they next play, there may be significant changes to their ecosystem and many potential problems to solve.
The more time students spend with Tyto Ecology, the more familiar they'll be not only with different kinds of plants, animals, and fungi, but also with how they interact and require each other's presence to survive. To do well in this game, players must master certain life science concepts, balancing their ecosystem with producers and consumers, predators and prey, pollinators and decomposers. Students will experiment as they balance, grow, and re-balance their biodome populations. Working toward in-game achievements can focus students who aren't as self-directed.
Since this is not a game that students will finish quickly (in fact, there isn't really an end to the game), it will take time, finesse, and careful modifications and tweaks to achieve and maintain balance. This teaches students patience, perseverance, and planning skills. Students will need to regularly check on their populations, though, to see how they're doing. When populations die out or are endangered, players only get an unobtrusive notification that they might not notice.
Key Standards Supported
Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
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