Conceptual Frameworks of Earth Systems: A Synthesis of Literature Addressing Student Learning of Complex Earth Systems

Wednesday 1:45pm Northrop Hall: 340


Hannah Scherer, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Lauren Holder, Texas A & M University
Bruce Herbert, Texas A & M University
The importance of an earth systems approach to education has been well documented for K-12 science education, geoscience literacy, and geoscience workforce expertise. Inherent in this approach is the idea of learners' systems thinking abilities, including student conceptualization of the Earth as a system. Additionally, there have been multiple calls for incorporating complexity science approaches and ideas into geoscience education. In this study, we reviewed the state of the geoscience education research (GER) field related to systems thinking in the context of earth systems by conducting a configurative review. Building on previous syntheses, we addressed the following research questions: 1) What are the characteristics of studies that address systems thinking in the context of earth systems? 2) What conceptual frameworks for systems are present in the GER literature on systems thinking in the context of earth systems? 3) How are these conceptual frameworks operationalized in research and educational interventions aimed at understanding and supporting systems thinking in the context of earth systems? Twenty-seven papers met inclusion and exclusion criteria. We conducted a content analysis on each of these papers to identify general characteristics and analyzed systems ideas using qualitative methods. We identified four conceptual frameworks for approaching systems thinking in research and educational interventions: earth systems perspective (19% of papers, n = 5), earth systems thinking skills (37% of papers, n = 10), complexity sciences (26% of papers, n = 7), and authentic complex earth and environmental systems (19% of papers, n = 5). This study is, to our knowledge, the first systematic review in this area and allows comparison of new findings with previous work more consistently. It also facilitates strengthening connections with cognitive science and education research literature related to systems thinking and complex systems.