Skip to main content

NitroGame

Main Image
Earth and Environmental Sciences

Nitrogen cycles through our ecosystems. It is an essential nutrient for many living things and plays a key role in the environment. However, too much nitrogen can be harmful.

In this workshop, students will explore how human activity affects the nitrogen cycle and contributes to climate change. They will play a game that simulates a balanced and unbalanced nitrogen cycle. The game can be played in-person or online.

This workshop discusses topics, which can lead to feelings of eco-anxiety among volunteers, educators and youth if not presented in a thoughtful manner. The most important things to remember are to be honest, hopeful, developmentally appropriate, and action oriented. This workshop was created with these guidelines in mind. For more details, refer to the volunteer resource, Being Conscious of Eco-Anxiety.

What You Need

Option 1: In-Person NitroGame

Per group of 3 students:

  • 1 game board (optional)
  • 25 nitrogen tokens (any kind of small token or counters is fine)
  • 18 white cards
  • 6 light grey cards
  • 1 six-sided die
  • PowerPoint presentation

Option 2: Online NitroGame

Activity Guide:

Activity Presentation:

Safety Notes

Ensure you are familiar with Let's Talk Science's precautions with respect to safe virtual outreach to youth.

What To Do

Introduction

  • Use the accompanying PowerPoint presentation to lead a discussion on the important role of nitrogen, the nitrogen cycle and the impact of excess nitrogen on the environment. Discuss with the educator beforehand to assess students' prior knowledge and adjust the introduction accordingly.

Option 1: In-Person NitroGame

Set up

  • Set up the board, or designate 3 player zones (Air, Soil, Plants) and a central zone (the Nitrate Zone).
  • Each player chooses a zone (Air, Soil, or Plants) to be their home base. Each player must choose a different zone.
  • Place 5 nitrogen tokens in each player’s zone and 10 nitrogen tokens in the central Nitrate Zone.
  • Shuffle the 18 white cards and place them in a pile, face down. This is the draw pile. Have each player draw three cards. For now, ignore the light grey cards and the dice and set them aside.
  • The player whose birthday is next goes first.

How to play

Round 1 
  • Each player will play one of the cards in their hand.
  • They will follow the instructions on the card to move 1 nitrogen token from a particular zone to another.
  • They will place the card in the discard pile, and take a new card from the draw pile.
  • Players take turns until all the cards have been played. Once all the cards have been played, the player zone with the most nitrogen wins.
Round 2 
  • Add the light grey cards to the white cards, and shuffle them together to form a new draw pile. Each player draws 3 cards to begin.
  • The game is played the same way as before, with 2 additional rules:
    • When playing a card, they roll the dice to see how many nitrogen tokens are moved. Light grey cards double the number of nitrogen tokens moved. You must choose your card before rolling the dice. If there are not enough nitrogen tokens in a zone to move, just move what tokens are available.
    • At the end of each turn, if a player zone has more than 12 nitrogen tokens in it, return half of those tokens to the Nitrate Zone.
  • Once all the cards have been played and the last turn completed, the player zone with the most nitrogen wins.

Option 2: Online NitroGame

  • To play online, share the Flippity link found in the PowerPoint presentation [slide 8]  to access a game board with the cards and nitrogen tokens.
  • There is no multiplayer access. Students will need to be separated into breakout groups and one player will have to share their screen and move the cards and tokens for everyone.
    • Before setting up the breakout groups, select the student from each group that will be in charge of moving the game pieces before sending the students into groups (or ask for volunteers). Provide students with a tutorial on how to share their screen.
  • The same rules apply [slide 9 and 10].

Notes:

  • Once you start playing, do not resize your browser window.
  • It may be helpful to send the Educator Resources page to the educator for them to distribute the Reference Sheet to the students prior to the workshop. The Reference Sheet has includes all the card information that may be hard to read on the digital game board.
  • The extra cards for Round 2 are in orange in the digital version (instead of light grey).

Discovery

Round 1 represents a balanced nitrogen cycle, with equal amounts of nitrogen moving between each zone via natural processes.

Round 2 represents an unbalanced nitrogen cycle, with different amounts of nitrogen moving between each zone via natural processes and human activity. Human activity greatly affects the amount of nitrogen that is added to the environment, which is why each grey or orange card doubles the amount of counters that are moved between zones.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for the growth of plants and plays a key role in the entire ecosystem. It is important to develop new technologies and more efficient ways of using nitrogen to avoid adding excess nitrogen and its harmful forms (nitrous oxides) to our environment. By being more mindful of our nitrogen use, we reduce the emission of a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and protect our environment from climate change.

  • For older audiences, volunteers may choose to incorporate the chemical reactions for each step of the nitrogen cycle [slides 21 - 24]. For more information, visit Understanding The Nitrogen Cycle (STEM in Context).
  • If time permits, you may decide to discuss industry solutions (current and potential) to nitrogen pollution, including:
    • Regulating fertilizer use and using fertilizer more efficiently in farming.
    • Feeding livestock animals correctly so that their manure has enough nutrients to be used as fertilizer.
    • Ensuring that run-off from wastewater treatment plants do not have high amounts of nitrogen.
    • Monitoring nitrogen levels in local bodies of water and make proactive steps to manage nitrogen pollution. This may involve adding beneficial bacteria to a water body that will prevent algal blooms from forming.
    • Planting deep-rooted vegetation that can filter nutrients out of run off around bodies of water.
  • Meet the Greenhouse Gases has instructions on how to make models of various greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide. For older audiences, students can make a model of nitrogen undergoing the various chemical reactions of the nitrogen cycle.
  • Gardens Against Greenhouse Gases is an activity that involves making seed bombs and discusses how plants act as carbon sinks in the fight against climate change.

Note: if this workshop is facilitated virtually, the above activities require supplies to be sent to the students or sourced by the educator.

What's Happening?

Round 1 represents a balanced nitrogen cycle, with equal amounts of nitrogen moving between each zone via natural processes.

Round 2 represents an unbalanced nitrogen cycle, with different amounts of nitrogen moving between each zone via natural processes and human activity. Human activity greatly affects the amount of nitrogen that is added to the environment, which is why each grey or orange card doubles the amount of counters that are moved between zones.

Why Does It Matter?

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for the growth of plants and plays a key role in the entire ecosystem. It is important to develop new technologies and more efficient ways of using nitrogen to avoid adding excess nitrogen and its harmful forms (nitrous oxides) to our environment. By being more mindful of our nitrogen use, we reduce the emission of a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and protect our environment from climate change.

Investigate Further

  • For older audiences, volunteers may choose to incorporate the chemical reactions for each step of the nitrogen cycle [slides 21 - 24]. For more information, visit Understanding The Nitrogen Cycle (STEM in Context).
  • If time permits, you may decide to discuss industry solutions (current and potential) to nitrogen pollution, including:
    • Regulating fertilizer use and using fertilizer more efficiently in farming.
    • Feeding livestock animals correctly so that their manure has enough nutrients to be used as fertilizer.
    • Ensuring that run-off from wastewater treatment plants do not have high amounts of nitrogen.
    • Monitoring nitrogen levels in local bodies of water and make proactive steps to manage nitrogen pollution. This may involve adding beneficial bacteria to a water body that will prevent algal blooms from forming.
    • Planting deep-rooted vegetation that can filter nutrients out of run off around bodies of water.
  • Meet the Greenhouse Gases has instructions on how to make models of various greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide. For older audiences, students can make a model of nitrogen undergoing the various chemical reactions of the nitrogen cycle.
  • Gardens Against Greenhouse Gases is an activity that involves making seed bombs and discusses how plants act as carbon sinks in the fight against climate change.

Note: if this workshop is facilitated virtually, the above activities require supplies to be sent to the students or sourced by the educator.