InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Systems Thinking
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
showLearn More
These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »
How to Use »

New to InTeGrate?

Learn how to incorporate these teaching materials into your class.

  • Find out what's included with each module
  • Learn how it can be adapted to work in your classroom
  • See how your peers at hundreds of colleges and university across the country have used these materials to engage their students

How To Use InTeGrate Materials »
show Download
The instructor material for this module are available for offline viewing below. Downloadable versions of the student materials are available from this location on the student materials pages. Learn more about using the different versions of InTeGrate materials »

Download a PDF of all web pages for the instructor's materials

Download a zip file that includes all the web pages and downloadable files from the instructor's materials

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.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Oct 24, 2016

Summary

The Systems Thinking Module provides a foundation for systems thinking throughout the InTeGrate materials. Units 1 and 2 of this module are designed to be used early within a course and then reinforced later; Units 3-5 give students data-rich modeling experiences; Unit 6 is an interactive summative activity. Specifically, this module prepares students to address complex systems issues for a sustainable future by 1) identifying the parts of a system and explaining how the parts interact, 2) developing skills to model complex systems using data and examples relevant to the course and 3) applying a systems approach to evaluate a societal challenge. This InTeGrate module fills a key need to educate students about the importance of the systems approach, uses examples that involve data and the construction and manipulation of systems models, and helps students approach complex, interdisciplinary problems.

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
  • Oceanography
  • Climate Science
  • Natural Hazards
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Interdisciplinary Courses
  • Sustainability Courses
NGSS Logo Very Small

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

The "Systems Thinking" module is structured so that students begin understanding simple systems and then progress to understanding complex thinking. Students learn to work with system modeling software and technical terms for discussing systems and balance and equilibrium in systems. This module engages students in the manipulation of input and output data through the use of the software and analysis of their changes in the system. By the end of the module, students are analyzing and discussing very complex systems within the Earth's system. This module is mainly focused on using computer models and computational thinking to teach systems thinking.

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.

Addressed grand challenges in earth and environmental science:

  • Identifying feedback between natural and perturbed systems
  • Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects

Addressed grand challenges in earth system science for global sustainability:

  • 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.


Instructor Stories: How this module was adapted
for use at several institutions »



      Next Page »

Already used some of these materials in a course?
Let us know and join the discussion »

Considering using these materials with your students?
Get pointers and learn about how it's working for your peers in their classrooms »

These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »