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Teach Systems Thinking

Effective Strategies for Teaching Systems Thinking

The page Promising Pedagogical Approaches for Teaching Complex Systems presents several strategies for teaching systems thinking, including using computer modeling, an inquiry-based approach, and role-playing. These materials are from the 2010 On the Cutting Edge workshop.

Teaching about systems thinking and complex systems were explored at a 2010 On the Cutting Edge workshop, which resulted in the creation of a set of web pages about Developing Student Understanding of Complex Systems in the Geosciences. This module contains descriptions of promising pedagogies, a collection of activities that teach complex systems and strategies for assessing student understanding.

Using an Earth System Approach is a guide for earth science educators to design courses and present concepts from a systems perspective.

Why Teach Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is particularly well-suited to teaching about the complex challenges that lie at the intersection of Earth systems and human interactions. Topics such as climate change, energy, population dynamics and resource use benefit from a systems-based approach.

  • Complex problems are multi-dimensional. Both the problem and the solutions cut across multiple disciplines and "spheres."
  • Students tend to prefer simplified, black and white explanations which may be only partially accurate. A systems approach can introduce complexity in an elegant, conceptual way that students can appreciate.
  • Systems thinking goes hand-in-hand with interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
  • Systems thinking offers a means to blend natural systems with human, political, cultural or economic systems.
  • Encouraging students to think from a systems point of view can encourage creative problem solving outside the usual discipline-based channels.
  • A systems approach is useful for examining interdependencies. This is especially important for societal challenges where many variables are changing, which affects other variables. The interactions of these variables are key to predicting the future. This is all the more important when changes have the potential to trigger positive feedback mechanisms.
  • Making informed decisions, as individuals and a society, requires an understanding of the complexity of the systems that make up our planet.

Opportunities to Strengthen Systems Thinking in Your Classroom

Systems thinking is prevalent across the curriculum, especially with regard to sustainability issues. Below are some suggested opportunities for strengthening systems thinking compiled by 2012 Systems, Society, Sustainability, and the Geosciences workshop participants.

Resources for Teaching Systems Thinking

See how other faculty are teaching systems thinking with these examples from a range of disciplines and learning environments.

Relevant materials from InTeGrate participants

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