What is a system?

Tuesday 1:50pm-2:10pm Weeks Geo: AB20
Teaching Demonstration Part of Tuesday Teaching Demos

Session Chairs

Lisa Gilbert, Cabrillo College
Karl Kruetz, University of Maine


  1. Knowledge surveys about Systems Thinking
  2. Goals/brief introduction to terminology
  3. Listen to the first two minutes of the Minnesota Public Radio piece (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/07/09/bcst-climate-cast-forest-fires) to list and sort influences on climate.
  4. Participants will evaluate whether a particular diagram adequately represents the system they heard described.
  5. Repeat knowledge survey and summary


This activity introduces systems and systems thinking. The activity could be used in almost any course and includes an introduction of terminology, motivation for using systems thinking, practice reading, as well as interpreting and evaluating systems diagrams. By the end of the activity, students will be able to: (1) define systems terminology (such as open and closed system, reservoir, flux, and feedback loop); (2) read and interpret simple systems diagrams; and (3) evaluate a given diagram's appropriateness for a written description of a system.


The activity is intended for use in an undergraduate course or module for which systems thinking is critical to the goals of the course or module. The examples used are general enough to be used with nearly any course. This activity can stand alone or be used at any point during a course to help promote systems thinking. The activity was developed as part of an InTeGrate module on Systems Thinking.

Why It Works

The activity is an part of an innovative module that promotes students' ability to approach problems holistically. The activity engages students in hands-on learning with authentic and credible geoscience data and metacognitive strategies.

Powerpoint presentation for teaching demo (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 19.1MB Jul29 16)

Handout for teaching demo (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.9MB Jul29 16)