Making Sense of the World Through Systems: The Arizona Science Teachers Symposium

We were thrilled to facilitate a session and co-sponsor the 2018 Arizona Science Teachers Association (ASTA), “Systems for Teaching Science” Symposium, Jul. 20-21 at the Biosphere 2 outside of Tucson, AZ.

Over 90 K-12 STEM teachers from across Arizona gathered to deepen their knowledge of instructional strategies to prepare learners for success now and in the future. The purpose of the annual ASTA symposiums are to find ways to move students beyond simply understanding science, to using what they know in a way that helps them make sense of the world.

Each year, a teaching practice, chosen by participants, takes the focus of the symposium. This year, “Developing and Using Models” shaped the event and made for a perfect opportunity to connect to systems thinking.

Waters Foundation Chief Learning Officer, Sheri Marlin, opened up the symposium by getting participants to start thinking about systems — more specifically, how understanding a system helps us see the interconnections that make up the whole, rather than focusing on just its parts. Thinking in this way certainly helps make sense of not only systems, but also the world — a main objective of the symposium.

Sheri also used our 14 Habits of a Systems Thinker to connect to different practices of science education. For example, when students practice the Habit “Surfaces and Tests Assumptions,” they are required to analyze data and then use it as evidence to build a sound argument. This type of thinking is important both in — and out — of the classroom.

Teachers also participated in the Waters Foundation “Water Challenge.” This fun and fast-paced group challenge is a stock-flow simulation. It’s a great way to see the relationship between rates of increase and decrease (change), and the accumulation at the center of the system of interest. It is truly hands-on, minds-on!

Participants not only gained insights about systems by participating in the Water Challenge, they also identified ways of using what they learned in the classroom.

A high school teacher from Yuma, AZ said, “The stock-flow system applies to so many content areas. It opens my eyes to the opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction.”

This type of feedback is certainly gratifying for Waters Foundation team members. Central to our mission is the goal of inspiring educators with innovative, engaging learning opportunities that will propel their teaching strategies and the success of students.

By making STEM education accessible and fun for students, we are more likely to see the next generation of leaders work together to solve challenges and build the type of world we’d all like to see.

We’d like to extend a special thanks to the Arizona Science Teachers Association for the opportunity to be involved, and to DaNel Hogan of STEMAZing whose love of science, passion for education and boundless energy made this event possible.

For more information on ASTA, visit:

For more information on STEMAZing, visit: