This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:
- team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
- multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
- real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
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- review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.
This page first made public: Oct 24, 2016
Strengths of the Module
This module addresses systems thinking in the context of societal issues. Students are engaged through active learning (e.g. diagramming, gallery walk, and modeling exercises) and requires interdisciplinary thinking.
Students learn about complex systems and feedbacks, and use systems modeling software to explore system responses to changes in the components of the system. They will learn to recognize systems in their everyday lives through a project involving documenting a system they encounter on campus or at home.
Students explore real Earth system data to learn about positive and negative feedbacks. The carbon cycle is used to explore quantitative relationships and to develop writing skills through describing components of a systems diagram.
Big picture thinking is developed when students make connections between components of the course.
A great fit for courses in:
- Environmental Science
- Introductory Geology
- Climate Science
- Natural Hazards
- Atmospheric Science
- Interdisciplinary Courses
- Sustainability Courses
Systems thinking is often described as "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." In order to approach complex problems of the future, students today need to develop the ability to see beyond cause-and-effect relationships to the interconnected nature of real-world systems. This module is designed to help students along an important long-term journey – to be able to understand and describe complex systems that they encounter in their studies and in the world around them. Any of the units in this module could be used alone in a course to improve systems thinking. However, systems thinking typically develops through several weeks or months (or ideally, years) of practice. Spreading the six units of the module across an academic term (i.e., Unit 1 and 2 near the beginning, Units 3, 4, and 5 in the middle, and Unit 6 at the end) allows students to build their skill at systems thinking over time. Content-specific examples are given for each unit, but the module is designed to provide units that can be used in combination with virtually any InTeGrate module or Earth-related science course.
Supported NSF Earth Science Literacy Principles:
- Big Idea 1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
- Big Idea 3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
- Big Idea 6: Life evolves on a dynamic Earth and continuously modifies Earth.
- Big Idea 7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
Supported NOAA Essential Principles of Climate Science:
7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.
- Identifying feedback between natural and perturbed systems
- Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects
- Develop, enhance, and integrate observation systems to manage global and regional environmental change
- Determine how to anticipate, avoid, and manage disruptive global environmental change.
- Determine institutional, economic, and behavioral changes to enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
- Encourage innovation (and mechanisms for evaluation) in technological, policy, and social responses to achieve global sustainability.
Table of Contents
- Instructor Materials: Overview of the Systems Thinking Module
Unit 1Introduction to Systems Thinking – What is a System? Unit 2Picturing Complexity Unit 3Modeling a System Unit 4Feedbacks in a System Unit 5Analyzing Complexity Unit 6Systems Thinking Synthesis
- Student Materials
- Instructor Stories
- Join the Community