- Story and photos by Adriene Koett-Cronn
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning,” ~ Fred Rogers
Play was key to the success of the first ever Bioenergy Summer Camp, held at Oregon State University (OSU), July 18-22. Twenty-one high school students participated in the camp, which was a collaborative effort between OSU’s Bioenergy Education Initiative (BEI) and STEM Academy.
Camp organizers took a novel approach to the academically focused camp, blending a series of short energy-related lectures, hands-on activities, and a strategy-style board game. The camp stressed the need to create sustainable solutions for the long-term health of communities and covered a range of bioenergy topics including photosynthesis, biomass conversion, and converting chemical energy into liquid fuels and electricity. Students applied this information to a board game created for the camp, which provided a vehicle to process the material they learned in a creative and meaningful way.
When planning the camp, OSU graduate student Keaton Lesnik said, “I wanted to find a way to put competitive stakes on learning about bioenergy and keep students engaged. A strategy-based game seemed like a natural fit.”
The premise of the game is that Earth’s climate has dramatically changed due to the effects of climate change. The players are part of an elite group who voyage to a distant planet capable of sustaining life. Disaster strikes, however, as they reach Planet 1061 and they are forced to escape in shuttle pods. Unfortunately, the shuttles land on different parts of the planet, each with very different ecosystems.
With this backstory established, students were broken into teams and assigned a region of Planet 1061 (desert, mountains, plains, tropics, Arctic, forest). Their first task was to discover the resources available in their region (there are no fossil fuels anywhere on the planet) and provide food, shelter, and energy for their new community. As students play the game and build their communities, they select Happening Cards which regularly deliver natural disasters and threaten the burgeoning communities’ survival.
“Students fully embraced the challenge of designing a non-fossil fuel community that could survive a series of random events that occur during game play,” said Lesnik. “The competitive drive to want to win and survive motivated the students to fully utilize all their resources and think of creative ways to get energy, food, and clean water. All-in-all this made it a really effective tool for broad concepts like bioenergy and sustainability.”
Undergraduate student Stephanie Pettro also helped with the development of the camp and game. She said, “The students responded better than I could have imagined. The game was tough for new gamers, but they got the hang of it. The most rewarding part was seeing them adapt and learn while playing, which was our intention when creating the game.”
Reflecting on the camp, Lesnik feels the best part was the lively discussions that sprang up between students as they strategized on ways they could generate energy and build their communities. These types of discussions continued throughout the preparation and design of the communities and into the game play when team's energy strategies had to be quickly altered to meet other demands, like food and water.
Pre- and post-survey testing of students revealed their understanding of bioenergy grew substantially. In survey comments one student wrote, “I like the game we worked on and learning about the different ways we can make energy.” Another wrote, “The best part of the camp was the game we played. It was very fun and interesting. It had us thinking in creative ways.” Another thought the game would be enjoyed by her peers writing, “I think my friends would have fun playing this game.”
With the beta testing of the camp under its belt, BEI plans to take the game to the next level. They will be streamlining the game and developing a complete teaching module that includes a series of lectures and activities that could be used in middle and high school classrooms.