High Plains Regional Climate Center


Date of this Version


Document Type



Science Scope. Vol. 33. No. 1. Critical Thinking (SEPTEMBER 2009). pp. 57-60


Students are often taught that ecosystems are "delicately balanced," But what. exactly, does this mean? How do we help students relate what they learn in the classroom about ecosystems to the world immediately around them?

As scientists who work closely with middle school students as part of a National Science Foundation-funded Graduate Fellows in K-12 Education program called Project Fulcrum. we have learned that abstract concepts, such as "delicately balanced ecosystem," are often not truly understood. We addressed this concern in a seventh-grade science classroom in Lincoln. Nebraska. by introducing students to locally threatened saline wetlands and the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle (see Figure 1). To give students a tangible model of an ecosystem and have them experience what could happen if a component of that ecosystem were removed, we developed a hands-on. inquiry-based activity that visually demonstrates the concept of a delicately balanced ecosystem through a modification of the popular game Jenga. This activity can be modified to fit classrooms in other regions by focusing on a locally endangered plant or animal. which can be determined by contacting local governmental agencies (e.g .. Department of Natural Resources).