With my grade 9 class we are currently doing Ecology, and we played the Deer Game. We actually combined two classes with a total of 44 students, which made it a bit more exciting than a single class.

A few outcomes were interesting. First, the students really started to get a first-hand sense of the term “competition”. When population numbers were small, the students would casually stroll over to the resources. When numbers were large, it was a madhouse, with students jockeying for position, and “cheating” by trying to jump the gun.

The activity also gave us live population data to use to look at the concept of carrying capacity:

The interesting thing was how this data enabled us to really address some preconceived statistical notions, and refine our definitions. Once we had our data, I asked what the carrying capacity might be. Without hesitation, several students said “twenty two”. Why? “Because it is half of forty four.” Mentally, they estimated the carrying capacity as half of the total number; 22 deer, 22 resources. But going back to our earlier discussions, we said that a population below the carrying capacity would likely grow the following generation, and above it would decline (negative growth). Using this as a guideline, they were able to estimate the carrying capacity at 27, which seems reasonable.

This little exercise, as simple as it is, models the habits of using the available information to draw logical conclusions, rather than leaping to unfounded answers based on preconceptions. I always hope that with each step like this they move a little closer to becoming scientists.