Exploring Systems Thinking with Science in the Elementary School: Webinar Highlights

In their webinar Exploring Systems Thinking with Science in the Elementary School, Karen Abbott and Kelly Nichols illustrate how systems thinking tools and habits can deepen student understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards. They posit, “Systems thinking tools enable students to delve deeply into scientific concepts while making visible the underlying and often unseen variables that influence behavior.” They also quote Kirk Robbins, author of the blog Science for All. Robbins states, “Systems thinking provides a unifying concept for learners to make sense of the natural world from micro to macro.” Karen and Kelly offer a host of examples to show how the pedagogy of systems thinking provides specific strategies for teaching students the types of thinking required by the standards.

Those familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards may recall that under each performance expectation in the standards there are three dimensions: a science or engineering practice, a core disciplinary idea, and a cross-cutting concept.

Here is an example:

NGSS Lead States. 2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States.

In the webinar Karen and Kelly offer a structural framework that brings great clarity to these dimensions. They make the connection between systems tools and science and engineering practices. In the standards these practices include analyzing and interpreting data, designing solutions, and engaging in argument from evidence. Karen and Kelly go on in the webinar to explicitly show how systems tools provide a specific strategy for teaching these practices. They equate the Habits of a Systems Thinker to the crosscutting concepts in the standards. Again the connection between the language in the standards and the language of the Habits of a Systems Thinker could not be more clear: patterns, cause and effect, structure, and interdependence. With a firm grasp of these concepts and the systems thinking habits the learner has a mindset ready to deeply understand the core ideas from the varied disciplines of science.


A final idea that Karen and Kelly drive home so well is that while the systems thinking tools and concepts are useful in achieving a particular standard, ultimately much of the learning happens in the conversation that occurs between learners. Skilled teachers use these tools to promote this productive conversation and gather critical pieces of assessment information through interactions with and among students.

If you were not able to participate in the live webinar, feel free to access this amazing resource. There you will not only hear more about how these ideas fit together to enhance science instruction, but you will be treated to specific ideas for implementing these ideas as part of classroom instruction. Practitioners may also want to share in the upcoming online collaborative set for March 16. For details about online collaboratives and to learn more about how you can participate, visit this page.

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