Categories: s1 and s2
I am pretty dreadful at the game 'jenga' but I love using it in class as a teaching tool. I have used it to show sustainability when teaching about the decline of old industries and exhaustion of non-renewable resources. On Friday, I used it with my s1 class as a starter activity to help learn about the rainforest ecosystem. I had asked a different class on Thursday to share their understanding of the term 'ecosystem' and was quite surprised that few people in the class were really confident in what it meant or how it worked. We had started learning about the rainforest through looking at tribal Amerindians as an extension of our study of culture in Brazil and had looked at how they manage their use of the rainforest and I wanted to show how a wider use would have a bigger impact. So we played jenga. No mention of why, we just played.
The students were determined to keep the tower growing and the game going. Some would try to move a block and have second thoughts, others would be quite blase in stripping their block out and many took great care but the blocks still collapsed. We even managed to involve Mrs Graham, one of the deputes who visited our class during the lesson, who looked visibly stressed at the possibility of knocking everything down. This was great for our later discussion, because it chrsytallised the way some people or organisations view the rainforest and their impact on it. From the ensuing discussion we managed to decide that all the blocks were connected and, regardless of how you move them, you still weaken the overall structure. So we then named some of the blocks. What if we called this block logging, this mining, this hydro-electric etc? This highlighted the vast competition for use of resources, and how each builds their success on removing the resource which actually supports it.
We also looked at the idea of the blocks as representing a species of plant or animal which disappeared as activities spread into the rainforest, and how all of those species were connected as a web of support which kept the rainforest ecosystem from collapsing. Finally, we brought it back to the tribes and how careful use might have less impact. I started a game to show the class and put some blocks on top, but some back into the tower, and the students compared this to the fallow periods that tribes leave for former clearings to replenish themselves. Asides in the discussion also led us to think about the actual role that the forest and the canopy play in keeping the whole delicate system in balance and what happens when that protection is removed. My own thoughts are that this activity gives students a much deeper understanding of the connections than simply teacher talk or use of texts. The jenga is cheap (about two pounds in ASDA), easy to set up, involves just about everyone in the class and from previous use, sticks in the mind of the participants for the right reasons as well as the fact they get to play a game in class. Now, must check that those blocks were from sustainable forests... ;)