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Understanding Dynamic Systems

Secondary

Description

This self-paced interactive lesson guides students through the process of identifying and analyzing a system. Students cover systems thinking basics and then examine the dynamics of soil health through videos and online exercises that make the system visible using tools such as loop diagrams. The resource is part of the Systems Literacy Collection.  Lesson components include:  

Systems are Everywhere

What Makes a System a System

Analyzing Soils as systems

Types of Systems

Identification and analysis of a system of your choice

 


General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The focus is on the skills associated with a systems thinking approach to analyzing problems and seeking solutions.

Strengths

There is a growing conviction that systems thinking is critical to meeting the challenges faced by our planet and its inhabitants. Understanding Dynamic Systems is a valuable resource in helping students acquire the skills necessary to become effective system thinkers and thus better change agents.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The generic nature of this resource means that it has broad application across the curriculum. It may be used in Social Studies for example in dealing with issues of causation - why did things happen? It may be used in the Science curriculum to analyze ecosystems or human impact on the planet. It may be used to Health to identify the interplay of income, education and well being. It may be used in English Language Arts to analyze interaction between plot and character.

It serves as a tool. It outlines a process and is therefore largely independent of particular curriculum content  

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

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  • Alberta
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        • Science 10-4 (Knowledge and Employability Science): Investigating Matter and Energy in Environmental Systems
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        • Biology 20: Ecosystems and Population Change
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        • Science 9: The biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere are interconnected, as matter cycles and energy flows through them.
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        • Environmental Science 120: Sustainable Development
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        • Science 1206: Sustainability of Ecosystems
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        • Biology 20: Ecosystems and Population Change
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        • Experiential Science 30, Freshwater Systems:Freswater Resource Management
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        • Biology 20: Ecosystems and Population Change
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        • Environmental Science (Univ/College Prep.) Scientific Solutions to Contemporary Environmental Challenges
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        • World Issues: A Geographic Analysis (College Prep.):Changing Societies
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        • Interdependence: Atlantic Canada in the Global Community: Environment in the Global Community
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        • Geography of Canada 421A: Methods of Geographic Inquiry
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        • Environmental Science 621A: Ecological Principles
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        • Social Justice 12: Moving Toward a Socially Just World

Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (1)

    • Interdependence
  • Food & Agriculture (1)

    • Organic Farming

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The aim of the resource is not to examine a particular topic or issue but to outline a process - systems thinking - that may be used to examine any issue to greater effect. 

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Very Good

System thinking as advocated by the resource is intended to help student's recognize the complexity of most issues and to provide them with a strategy to analyze the factors at play. The key is to have students not just think about the parts of the problem, but how the parts all work together to produce the results they see.  

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Very Good

The resource starts with a recognition of the complexity of many issues and guides students through the basics of system thinking as a response to this complexity. Students learn what makes a system a system,how to identify the parts of the system and its boundaries, and how to diagram the causal connections in a system.  

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

The final step in systems thinking has students verify their loop diagrams that outline causes and effects. Once complete, students are asked to consider areas to leverage, where  a small change can have a large impact by asking themselves - What changes in the diagram should lead to a more desirable behaviour? What strategy could I use or recommend to achieve these changes?

In some situations, students may be able to act upon these changes themselves and then observe real world results. In others, it may be possible to use a simulation model to test their assumptions. 

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Satisfactory

In applying system thinking to the resolution of problems/issues, students will be required to identify the various factors at play and subsequently what weight to give to particular factors if they are to intervene in the system. Deciding on the importance of a given factor is part of any process of values clarification. 

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

While not the focus of the resource, one might expect that as students become more effective system thinkers, they may better understand the difficulties and perspectives of others and thereby avoid the rather simplistic thinking that is often the source of our antipathy towards others.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Satisfactory

In order to illustrate the system involved in a given issue, the resource includes a video on soil health in which soil is approached as a dynamic system that is critical to our well - being and how we may damage the the health of the soil or act to improve it. 

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

To help students understand what makes a system a system, they are asked to think about the world they know- what is going on that they find interesting, or that's causing a problem for them or others. They then fill out a chart - My System - to determine whether this thing is actually a system or just a heap, or collection of things. The resource thus starts with the familiar and moves to the less familiar.

The concluding activity directs students to choose a new system that interests them and which they are concerned about and to apply what they have learned about system thinking to better understand the issue and to determine what might be appropriate action.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Satisfactory

Tone is positive in that the resource submits that our current problems/issues may be resolved in favour of a better future if we adopt a systems approach in our analysis of and response to these challenges.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

Understanding Dynamic Systems does does argue for a particular answer to the challenges we face but for a process that will provide better answers.  

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Very Good

The process of systems thinking as outlined in the resource is generic and therefore transcends particular subjects or disciplines. In asking students to recognize the interplay of all relevant factors, system thinking promotes a multidisciplinary approach to learning.  

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Very Good

Understanding Dynamic Systems provides students with the tools to engage in more productive discovery learning by challenging the effectiveness of the linear thinking that is promoted by many current resources.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory

Understanding Dynamic Stsyems is a self-paced interactive resource that allows students to proceed at their own rate.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Good

Students learn the process of identifying and analyzing a system by viewing a video, completing online exercises and using tools such as causal loop diagrams that help make the system visible. This process helps to bring a concreteness to a rather abstract concept

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

Understanding Dynamic Systems is a self-paced lesson but students are encouraged to verify with others the causal loop diagram they create and make any resulting changes before undertaking any action designed to intervene positively in the system as outlined.  

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

The self-paced nature of the lesson means that there is a degree of personal assessment as the student moves through the steps as outlined.  Students are also asked to discuss their system diagram with others and seek suggestions prior to making a presentation to others, which represents another level of assessment.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

The final step as outlined in the lesson asks students to make a presentation of the causal loop diagram they developed. The interchange that is expected to occur as a result of the presentation provides an opportunity for the presenter and the listeners to gain a better understanding of the topic and the process.  

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

A case study on the factors that affect soil health is used to illustrate the principles of system thinking.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

The student controls the pace of the lesson as he/she moves through the interactive steps outlined in the lesson plan.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.