Overview: This activity involves using a computer simulation to increase students’’ understanding of the long-term potential of exponential growth.  The computer simulation includes a scenario description, experiments with changes in variables, final conclusions, explanation of stock and flow diagrams, and related questions.  It is recommended that the teacher practice with the simulation first to acquire experience with the simulation and to facilitate decisions about the use of the explanatory text and questions following the simulation.  These decisions will greatly depend on the reading level of the students.

Lesson Objectives

Curriculum Context

Systems Thinking Concepts

  • To increase students’ understanding of exponential growth
  • To increase students’ understanding of bacteria growth as an illustration of exponential growth
  • To increase students’ awareness of potential food poisoning as a result of bacteria growth
  • Optional:  To develop students’ understanding of the concept of stock and flow diagrams
This lesson can be used in a variety of contexts:

  • math or science classes to illustrate and develop understanding of exponential growth
  • science class to introduce cell division, bacteria growth, or population growth
  • language arts classes as an introductory activity before reading related text or as a prompt to stimulate ideas for a writing assignment
  • social studies classes to illustrate and develop understanding of population growth and factors that stimulate population growth
  • generic structure
  • compounding feedback
  • reinforcing feedback
  • exponential growth





Systems Tool(s)

  • STELLA® software  (available from isee systems – www.iseesystems.com
  • Potato Salad Computer simulation is available with the download of the complete lesson plan.
  • One computer and projector for large group presentation or multiple computers for small group or individual work.
  • 2-3 hours plus possible extensions to related curriculum and/or concepts
  • Stock and flow diagrams
  • Computer simulation
  • BOTG

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