Invasive Species Lesson Plan: The Invasion Game

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan which is adaptable for students in grades 3-12, students will explore the effects of invasive species. They will participate in a game simulation in which they must stop carp (a non-native species) from progressing through the waterways to Lake Michigan.

Preparation and Game Background Information for the Teacher:

Invasion!! is a free online game created by a Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) student project called “Bridges,” sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. Working in partnership with the Field Museum of Chicago, the game explores the goal of preventing Asian carp from invading the waters of Lake Michigan. Portions of the background information provided in this lesson plan have been adapted from the game developer’s website.

The game has two parts. The first part is an introductory game appropriate for students in grades 3-12. The player controls an Asian carp which can swim, eat, and jump out of the water. The carp eats plankton to gain energy, and at a certain point, can jump up to try to hit boaters and birds (as occurs in the real world). The purpose of this game is to draw the player into the world of Asian carp.

The second and primary portion of the game is a simulation where the player is introduced to the complex global dilemma of managing invasive species. This portion of the game targets high school students, as it requires some advanced reading skills and an appropriate level of systems thinking to appreciate the socio-political aspects of the game. The objective is to stop carp from progressing through the waterways to Lake Michigan. The style of game play is a mix of a turn-based tower defense game and a simple card game to gain resources to build more towers. To win the game, the player needs to keep the carp out of the lake for 25 turns. There are random events the affect the system each turn, so the player will have to often adjust strategies.

Ideas for Building Background Knowledge Prior to Game Play:

– BrainPOP has a number of movie topic pages that can help students make connections to what they already know and prepare them for game play. The Fish and Rivers topic pages are especially useful in developing understanding about the context of game play.

– Younger students can read and discuss the Invasive Plants article from the National Geographic for Kids website. Print the Invasive Species Kids Fun Book from the Idaho Department of Agriculture (or the slightly more advanced Invader Rangers! Youth Activity Book from the Invasive Plant Council of British Columbia) and explore the activities together.

– Have students explore the effects of invasive species through a hands-on investigation. You can use the It’s Not Just a Bug activity from the New York Times to have students simulate how crops are affected by native and non-native insect populations, and learn about the options farmers have to protect their crops.

Ideas for integrating the “Invasion” Game in Your Instruction:

– Allow students to independently explore the first portion of the game. Draw students’ attention to the food sources and competitors shown the game. Guide students to understand that carp eat up to 40% of their body weight in a day and also jump out of the water when they are startled.

– Older students can then move on to the second portion of the game, either independently or in pairs. The objective is to stop carp from progressing through the waterways to Lake Michigan, and to win, students must keep the carp out of the lake for 25 turns.

– Talk with students about what they are learning through game play. How did they adjust their strategies after each random event altered the system?

Ideas for Extending Student Learning After the Game:

– As you discuss game play with students, you may find that other related topics surface. You can use BrainPOP movies such as Food Chains, Migration, Natural Resources, or Supply and Demand to help develop student understanding as needed.

– Challenge students to explore another invasive species, such as the kudzu, cane toads, European rabbits, the green crab, toxic dinoflagellates, or the zebra mussel. Students may choose to research a type of non-native feral animal in their own community or state. Have students research their selected species’ native origins and worldwide spread, the damage the species has caused both economically and environmentally, and the efforts that have been made to control the problem and/or eradicate the species from its non-native habitat.

– After students have researched another invasive species, have them share what they have learned. You can use the Exploring the Effects of Invasive Species on Local Ecosystems activity from the New York Times, which tasks students with developing a multimedia exhibit to educate the public about their findings. Or, have students write a news article or blog post to share their research.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Extension Activity:

Take a field trip to an international airport if there is one nearby, and arrange to have students talk with and observe the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS]. Have students share what they learned about how various countries prevent travelers from importing plants or animals illegally, and how this helps prevents future problems with invasive species.