Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to general characteristics shared by all dynamic systems. Lesson activities include a physical simulation, a debriefing discussion, direct teaching of vocabulary, and student application of what has been experienced to other systems within their experience. This lesson is intended for students in grades 3 and above. The same lesson, using a different physical simulation, is recommended for students in grades Kindergarten through two.

Lesson Objectives

Curriculum Context

Systems Thinking Concepts

  • Students will identify characteristics that are shared by all systems.Students will use these characteristics to identify at least two systems that have influence in their lives.
  • Given a system, like a toy car, students will make decisions about what is and is not part of that system based upon the general system characteristic, “all parts of the system are needed to produce the behavior of the system.”
  • Students will be able to explain the terms interdependence and leverage and give examples to illustrate their meaning.
  • Students will be able to explain how delays influence what happens in the simulation and will explain how delays influence another system with which they have experience.
This lesson is best used to introduce the concept of a system and increase students’ awareness of the systems all around them. It can then be used as a reference point in any area of the curriculum by asking students to reflect on the topic at hand using the characteristics of systems discussed in this lesson to identify any systems involved in their current study. Students can be encouraged to use the system descriptors as criteria to determine whether something is a system or not by asking discriminating questions.


  • dynamic system
  • change over time
  • interdependence
  • feedback
  • leverage
  • structure generates behavior
  • delays
  • boundaries



Systems Thinking Tool(s)

  • Chart paper
  • Adhesive name tags
  • Masking tape
  • Markers
  • About one hour, including the debrief
  • None required


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