Understanding How Systems Work

Last year, one of my students brought in an assignment from her science class where she had to talk about a closed situation with a lot of parts that worked together. Being a sports nut, she naturally chose to look at soccer. She listed out all of the parts of a soccer game, including players and the field, and then had to think about how and why everything worked together the way it did. It was a great way to get her thinking about systems.

The world is a layer of systems, all working together and around each other daily to create the fabric of reality we live in. But because the actual teaching of systems thinking has so long resided with science and social studies, it’s been pushed aside as schools have tried to focus more on language arts and math in preparation for the yearly exams. These days, it’s the younger students who are much more likely to get a  good dose of systems thinking taught to them while they study the basics of the local community and simple science concepts like plants and the solar system.

It’s a shame, too, because as we look at the cause and effect of science and social studies lessons taught in later classes, it just seems natural that we would look at them within the context of the systems in which they occur.

I don’t know what the right answer to this one is, but I do know that having a strong grasp on the nature and function of systems can help young people be better informed and prepared to make even small decisions.


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