Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Editor's Corner

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Editor's Corner

Article excerpt

Systems Thinking

Systems are everywhere, from business markets to ant colonies, and across disciplines as disparate as economics and thermodynamics. The theme "Systems and system models" is one of seven crosscutting concepts in the recent Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2011). Systems understanding is integral to other crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and scientific and engineering practices covered in the Framework.

The modern field of "systems thinking" or "systems dynamics" recognizes that for complex phenomena the whole can differ from the sum of the parts, often in unexpected ways. Complex systems have properties that emerge from the interactions of many interrelated factors. and understanding such systems involves focusing on a web of intricate interrelationships involving stocks, flows (inputs and outputs), time delays, and feedback loops.

We sometimes say students "can't see the forest for the trees." In a systems context, "forest" is an emergent property derived from a complex web of biotic and abiotic factors such as water, soil, growth, sunlight, and decay. To fully comprehend "forest" requires a holistic understanding of the dynamic interdependencies that together create the forest system.

Global climate change is a problem where systems thinking is imperative. Interconnected biogeochemical feedback loops involving Earth's ocean, land, air, and ice combine to create the emergent property we call "climate. …

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