Teach Systems Thinking
This page draws on materials developed at the 2010 Cutting Edge workshop on Complex Systemsand the 2012 InTeGrate workshops on Teaching the Methods of Geoscience andSystems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences.
Teaching Strategies and Example Classroom Activities
These six units can be adapted to your course to help students boost their systems thinking skills. »Strengthening Teaching of Systems Thinking in your Course This is a set of recommendations used by InTeGrate authors as they developed materials for our teaching collection.
Several effective strategies for teaching systems thinking have been identified by Cutting Edge and InTeGrate workshop participants, including using:
- Computer modeling including Stella
Opportunities to Strengthen Systems Thinking in Your Classroom
Systems thinking is prevalent across the curriculum, especially with regard to sustainability issues. Even if you don't explicitly call it systems thinking, you can always make connections and point them out to your students. Simple examples of systems (predator-prey relationships, ice-albedo feedback) can be taught in general education courses to underscore the prevalence of systems in everyday life. In upper-level courses, you can use systems thinking to teach mathematics and quantitative reasoning. And you can always work with other faculty in your department to integrate systems thinking across your curriculum, or with faculty in other departments to integrate systems thinking across campus.
Resources for Teaching Systems Thinking
- Watch the recording of the Teaching Systems Thinking Webinar
- Developing Student Understanding of Complex Systems in the Geosciences includes teaching activities, assessment strategies, and more.
- Using an Earth System Approach is a guide for earth science educators to design courses and present concepts from a systems perspective.
- Systems Thinking & System Dynamics introduces several key concepts important to systems thinking and system dynamics that can be incorporated into an introductory geoscience course.
- Experiencing Systemic Thinking in an activity intended to assist students in understanding social and natural systems through observing and commenting upon a natural system and a social system.
- The Earth and Mind blog has many posts related to systems thinking.
- The Earth and Mind II ( This site may be offline. ) special volume has a section about teaching systems, which includes 7 papers about aspects of teaching systems thinking in the geosciences, including complex systems, weather systems, geodynamic systems, modeling, and more.
- How Geoscientists Think and Learn Kastens, K. et al, (2009), How Geoscientists Think and Learn, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(31), 265.
- Box Diagrams to Assess Students' Systems Thinking about the Rock, Water and Carbon Cycles Sibley D. W., et al, Journal of Geoscience Education, v 55, no 2, p 138.
- Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update - by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis L. Meadows.
- Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System - by Donella Meadows. This article illustrates how a systems approach can be used to create societal change.
- Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows. Chelsea Green Publishing. This book describes how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life
- Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson.
- The video The Man Who Stopped the Desert provides a good example of how complex systems operate.
- Climate Interactive has a series of training videos on systems thinking called The Climate Leader
- Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in Systems: A primer (D. Wright Ed.). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
- Harte, J. (1988). Consider a Spherical Cow: A course in environmental problem solving. Sausalito, CA: University Science Books.
- Visualizing Systems activity, by Lisa Gilbert, describes the free online tool, Loopy.