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Educating for "Sapience"

Posted: Sep 8 2013 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Evolution, Systems Thinking, Community, Solving Societal Problems, Metacognition

I've recently been digging into the writings of George Mobus on the subject of "Sapience." Mobus begins by asking himself and his readers "If we are such a clever species, why is the world the way it is, and heading in such a bad direction?"

His answer is that most humans, even very intelligent and clever ones, have too little "sapience."

"Sapience" is Mobus' term for a human attribute that is a combination of judgement (based on life experiences), moral sense (primarily altruism, thinking about the welfare of the group as well as of yourself), taking a long view of the future (strategic perspective), and systems perspective. He thinks that sapience is present in all humans, but very unevenly distributed with a few people having a lot and most people having little. More

The second law of thermodynamics as a unifying theme of geosciences

Posted: May 21 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Energy, Spatial Thinking, Systems Thinking

Map of hurricane tracksHurricanes carry heat away from the tropics. <image info>
This post was triggered by an insight in Dave Mogk's Efficiency post: "A hurricane is an extremely efficient natural process that redistributes the thermal energy built up in tropical oceans by rapidly transferring this energy to colder, northerly latitudes."

It turns out that many Earth processes of global significance, in both solid and fluid earth, have this same effect of redistributing energy away from localities of high energy concentration towards localities of lower energy concentration. The net effect is a more dispersed spatial distribution of energy. More

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Using Logic Diagrams to Organize Knowledge and Pinpoint Ignorance

Posted: Apr 18 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking, Metacognition

(adapted from essay and talk prepared for the Cutting Edge Workshop on "Developing Student Understanding of Complex Systems in the Geosciences," Carleton College, April 18-20, 2010.)


A causes B
One of the hardest aspects of learning about complex Earth Systems is organizing fragments of knowledge into some kind of coherent framework. I teach students who want to be science journalists or environmental journalists. These students are looking towards a career in which they will frequently have to jump right into the deep end and come quickly up to speed on complicated new ideas. I am always on the lookout for techniques that will help them construct understandings quickly and accurately, techniques that will continue to work for them when they no longer have me and their other professors to scaffold their learning, techniques that will help them to become effective self-directed learners.

One of the most powerful techniques that I have come up with is a type of concept map I call a logic diagram. More

Challenges Inherent in Teaching Geosciences

Posted: Mar 12 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking, Spatial Thinking

Several inherent attributes of ocean, atmosphere and solid earth sciences contribute to making these disciplines challenging to teach and learn at the K-14 level. These include the large spatial scale of important processes, the consequent reliance on models and representations rather than actual target phenomena in hands-on activities, the centrality of systems thinking and emergent phenomena, and the importance of non-experimental modes of inquiry. None of these difficulties is unique to geosciences, and none is insurmountable, but they do require purposeful attention from educators, curriculum and program designers, and evaluators. More

Going Negative on

Posted: Jan 16 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking

In the first paper coming out from the Synthesis of Research on Thinking & Learning in the Geosciences, we made the bold assertion that:

"For understanding the Earth as a complex system, the concept of feedback loops is key... In [geoscience] education, feedback loops function as a "threshold concept," a concept difficult to learn but transformative once mastered. Because feedback loops underpin a stable Earth system, fostering a working knowledge of this concept throughout the decision-making populace could increase civilization's capacity to cope with 21st- century challenges. In spite of its importance, the feedback loop concept is arguably the most under-researched topic in the entire domain of geoscience thinking and learning." Kastens, Manduca, et al, 2009

Even in the absence of new research on this topic, I am ready to stake my reputation on a simple intervention that I am convinced can greatly improve students' and the public's understanding of the concept of feedback loops. More

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