Next Gen Science Standards

{Still under construction. Those standards documents are big, and Fire and Flora is chock-full of content. Please pardon the gaps in this discussion, I’m working to fill them in.}

Quick Overview

This section gives a quick overview of the ways in which Fire and Flora addresses the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS). For more information on how FnF addresses specific standards, follow the links below. For questions or comments beyond that, feel free to contact me.


Fire and Flora provides players with experience in all eight of the science and engineering practices identified by the NGSS (relevant chapter is here). The greatest impact relates to practice #2: developing and using models. As the game was specifically designed as a model of real-world ecosystems, the very act of playing provides practice in the usage of models. More importantly, as players gain experience, and come to understand the workings of this ecological model, they will develop and refine increasingly complex mental models of the game, and of other players, in order to become more successful (for more thoughts on this, click here).

While the game naturally provides experience with practice #2, with only modest additional effort, parents and teachers can use the game to provide players with valuable experience in any or all of the other NGSS practices. For example, you can ask questions about what might happen if the climate were to become more dry, or if humans were to become better or worse a fighting wildfires (practice #1). You could then use the game as a model to walk through likely consequences (practice #3), and use the results from the game-as-model to answer the original questions (practice #4).

For convenience, a list of practices from the NGSS framework document:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. **Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Concepts

Fire and Flora also provides players with experience in four of the seven crosscutting concepts identified by the NGSS framework document (relevant chapter is here). The links below provide more information on game mechanisms and ideas related to specific concepts.

  1. Patterns.
  2. **Cause and effect
  3. **Scale, proportion, and quantity
  4. **Systems and system models
  5. Energy and matter
  6. Structure and function
  7. **Stability and change

Core Ideas

Fire and Flora contains quite a bit of real-world content, some of which is also a part of the Next-Gen Science Standards. Note that, as the NGSS is relatively broad and balanced, it only touches on ecology in a relatively few places. On the other hand, Fire and Flora is a focused content tool, and goes fairly deeply into landscape ecology and community ecology. For this reason, much of the content in FnF is outside the NGSS standards.

The following is a list of ideas from the NGSS that are also included in Fire and Flora. Click the links for more information on specific topics.


Practice: Developing and using models

There are several aspects to the relationship between Fire and Flora, and the practices of modeling. For convenience, we’ll split them into gaming-type issues, and ecological-type issues.

The gaming-type issues stem from the basic fact that all games are models. Some games are abstract models, involving only logic or mathematics, some games are models of fictitious systems, and some games (such as Fire and Flora) are models of real-world systems. The very act of playing a game, any game, is an exercise in using a model.

This becomes interesting when you consider the fact that most games have many levels of strategy. Beginning players learn the rules, and in so doing, build an internal model that is equivalent to the rulebook. During play, these beginning players use that mental model to plan one or two steps ahead. Over time, as players gain experience, they begin to think more deeply about the game, and develop new and better strategies. They consider more complex strategies, consisting of combinations of actions, and evaluate those strategies in the context of their knowledge of other players. In this way, across multiple playthroughs, players construct increasingly complex mental models. Thus, the process of becoming a skilled player of a game, any game, is a process of model development.

As Fire and Flora is an ecological model, there are a set of ecological-type modeling issues that parallel the gaming-type modeling issues. Through learning the rules, players learn about the immediate causal connections in a real-world landscape. Which species are damaged by fire? Which species germinate after fire? Taken together, this set of simple interactions forms a detailed model of California landscapes.

Once players understand these interactions, they can then begin to learn about broader patterns, and also about cascading effects. Given the set of species that live on these landscapes, what will happen to landscapes if there is too much fire? If there is too little fire? Through experience and reflection, players will discover that broad-scale patterns can emerge from simple interactions. Thus, through this game, players will develop bottom-up models of ecosystem function.

Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and effect

Crosscutting Concepts: Scale, proportion, and quantity

Crosscutting Concepts: Systems and system models

Crosscutting Concepts: Stability and change

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

In Fire and Flora, landscapes are shaped by resource cards and by event cards. Both types of cards include natural forces (e.g. rain, wind) and human activities (e.g. weed crews, water bombers). The presence of these human-related cards makes clear the many ways that human choices can affect landscapes, for both good and ill.

Of the landscape-shaping forces in this game, the most complex and important one is fire. Players will be able to set intentional fires using the Prescribed Fire resource card. However, the event deck also contains a number of Wildfire cards, which come up randomly. Each Wildfire card includes text that names the cause of that particular fire. In the real world, most ignitions are somehow related to human activities. For this reason, most of the Wildfire cards in this game list human activities as their cause (e.g. crashed airplane, downed powerline, or escaped campfire).

Overall, the varied and complex role of fire in natural landscapes, including the way that humans influence fire, is modeled within this game. The effects of fires can be both positive or negative, depending on their frequency, and extent. While a very few fires are entirely natural, most fires are somehow influenced by humans. Some are intentionally started for resource benefit, but many more are accidental starts, a result of carelessness or bad luck. Well-intentioned prescribed fires may burn out of control, while accidental fires can sometimes be controlled or directed.

LS1.A: Structure and function

Fire and Flora addresses ideas of structure and function at the level of communities and landscapes. This is an interesting complement to the NGSS framework document (here), which takes an organismal-level focus when discussing structure and function. That document describes the way that specialized cells are organized into tissues, tissues are organized into organs, and organs are organized into organisms. It’s a bit of a shame that the discussion within the framework document ends at the level of organisms, as you can, in fact, usefully continue this organizational hierarchy for several levels beyond the individual organism. The introductory section of LS2 notes that individuals are organized into populations, populations into communities, communities into ecosystems, and ecosystems into biospheres. Thus, some of the broader-scale issues of structure and function are mentioned outside of LS1.A, but the different context lessens the impact of those broader-scale ideas.

Individuals of different types of species often live together in the same space, and these groups of species are called communities (e.g. oak woodland, mangrove swamp). Communities are necessarily organized, though that organization is more often the result of predation and competition than cooperation. While the connections among individuals in a community are sometimes weaker than the connections among cells in a body, those connections do exist, and they play important roles in ecosystem function.

In Fire and Flora, each player has ownership of a landscape, and works to protect and improve that landscape. The landscape may include any of eleven different species, and the biological structure of the landscape (types of species, and number of individuals of each species) influences the function of the landscape. For example, a game landscape composed of Purple Needlegrass and Whispering Bells will be appreciative of fire, but vulnerable to invasion. On the other hand, a landscape composed of Sagebrush and Mulefat will be vulnerable to fire, but resistant to invasion.

Through gameplay, players will come to understand some of the connections between structure and function at the level of communities and landscapes. As this understanding grows, players will be able to incorporate this knowledge into their mental models of both the game and of ecosystem function, and utilize that knowledge in developing better, more successful, game strategies.

LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms

In Fire and Flora, the gameplay is centered around plant cards. In combination, the rules of the game, and the design of the cards allow these cards to grow and change over time, just like real plants. Through playing the game, observing and influencing the lives of the plant cards, players learn the basics of plant life cycles.

More specifically, Fire and Flora includes eleven different types of plant card. Each type of plant card represents a real-world plant species, and each type has a different personality. This makes the point that different species have different life cycles.

Additionally, each plant card has two sides. One side represents a small, or young plant; while the other side represents a large, or mature plant. The two sides of a card often have different personalities, responding to resources and events in different ways. This makes the point that individuals have different characteristics in different stages of development.

LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The critical abiotic resource in Fire and Flora is living space. During the course of the game, plants will compete with each other for living space, growing, reproducing, and invading territory held by other species or individuals. This competition is necessary because the total amount of living space is limited, and that limit imposes a carrying capacity on in-game landscapes.

In the real world, plants that stake out a space within a landscape gain access all the resources that are within that space, or delivered to that spaces: nutrients from the soil, water from rainfall, and energy from sunlight. A game that explicitly included each of those resources as a separate game element would be too complex for younger players, and so Fire and Flora simplifies the situation by using living space as a surrogate for resource competition in general.

LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

LS2.D: Social Interactions and Group Behavior

LS4.C: Adaptation

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