InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Systems Thinking > Instructor Materials: Module Overview
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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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.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Systems Thinking Module

Module Goal: The goal of this module is to prepare 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.
Module Summative Assessment:

Imagine it is some months from now and you have applied for a job as an ocean science writer for a new popular science magazine called Our Changing Ocean. In the interview, the editor asks you:

"People say 'everything is connected,' but I rarely get specific examples. Will you convince me of the connectedness and complexity of the ocean?"

Write what you would say in response by picking any three seemingly unrelated concepts from this course and relating them in the the context of human interaction with the ocean. Be sure to use systems thinking language and specific examples.

Unit 1Introduction to Systems Thinking — What is a System?

As an introduction to the terminology of systems, this unit should be used early in a course. The unit focuses on a simple conceptual model to introduce the tools of systems thinking, uses a real-world example of a complex societal problem for practice, and offers easily adapted alternatives.

Unit 2Picturing Complexity

Early in a course, students will work collaboratively to create and revise an Earth systems diagram. Building on that experience, students will use photographs to represent a system from their daily lives.

Unit 3Modeling a System

This unit introduces systems modeling, which allows system components to be quantified and manipulated to demonstrate system response. Students use a simple systems model of a bathtub to explore the effect of flow rates on system equilibrium.

Unit 4Feedbacks in a System

Feedbacks are a critical part of many systems. In this unit, students use a systems model to explore the effect of positive (reinforcing) and negative (balancing) feedbacks on system behavior. Model results are then used as a basis for interpreting Arctic sea ice data.

Unit 5Analyzing Complexity

Relatively late in the course, students revise their systems diagrams from Unit 2, based on their expanded knowledge of that system and experience with systems thinking.

Unit 6Systems Thinking Synthesis

This simple in-class exercise is an alternative to standard review sessions and is a way to model the "big-picture thinking" students need to do when thinking about systems. In a round-robin of pairings, students review course content while making connections between components of the course.

Making the Module Work

To adapt all or part of the Systems Thinking module for your classroom, you will also want to read through

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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 »