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Research about System Thinking and System Dynamics in K-12 Education


Below are a variety of papers about Systems Thinking and/or System Dynamics in K-12 Education. Many of the papers are peer-reviewed and all of the papers address meaningful issues in systems education, both at the policy level and at the student learning level. There are more research article available at the Waters Foundation.

Spotlight Research

Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling within K-12 Schools: Effects on Student Learning

By: Anne LaVigne
After twenty years, what evidence exists that using systems thinking/dynamic modeling (ST/DM) methodologies has a positive, desirable effect on student learning?

Four areas of evidence are available, each in different quantities and with different measurement criteria. The largest body of evidence is found within the anecdotes of teachers. Although smaller in quantity, action research and student survey results allow for observation of some general trends relating to student learning/thinking. Finally, empirical research studies are less prevalent, but have occurred within K-12 classrooms. Read More...

Browse other articles by the author


A Computer System Simulation of Student Performance in the Elementary Classroom
Author(s): Nancy Roberts
  Nancy Roberts did a study of student performance during her doctoral work in 1973. It was published in the September 1974 issue of Simulation & Gaming, vol.5: pp 265-290, and is still available online at the Simulation & Gaming journal site.
  Link to the file:
America Disrupted: Dynamics of the Technical Capability Crisis
Author(s): Dan Sturtevant
  The percentage of students earning Bachelors degrees in engineering is almost half what it was in 1985. This decline has occurred despite the fact that wages for engineering graduates are higher than those of any other degree-type. Unemployment for scientists and engineers has just hit a record low. ...
Assessing the Effectiveness of Systems Thinking in the Classroom
Author(s): Megan Hopper, & Krystyna A. Stave
  This paper presents an analysis of systems thinking interventions in educational settings. Although these interventions have been implemented in K-12 classrooms since the mid 1980s, there is still no clear definition of systems thinking or identification of the best method to test the effectiveness ...
Assessing the Effectiveness of Systems-Oriented Instruction for Preparing Students to Understand Complexity
Author(s): Richard Randall Plate
  Dissertation for Ph.D. This research presents systems-oriented instruction as a promising pedagogical tool for preparing students to understand complex social and ecological systems. A methodology is presented using cognitive mapping to evaluate how systems-oriented instruction affects the way students ...
Building Slightly More Complex Models: Calculators vs. STELLA
Author(s): Diana M. Fisher
  If students are to develop the potential to effectively manage ubiquitous complex systems, it is becoming increasing important to develop systems thinking concepts and model building skills formally at the pre-college level. This paper describes an experiment conducted in two secondary school classrooms ...
Can people learn behaviours of stock and flow using their ability to calculate running total? An experimental study
Author(s): Tony Phuah
  Tony Phuah's Masters Thesis at the University of Bergen. Stock and flow is the basis of dynamics. Understanding of stock and flow is crucial in comprehending and managing problems such as global warming and national debt. Yet previous experimental studies discovered that people performed poorly in ...
  Link to the file:
Children's Misconceptions as Barriers to Learning Stock-and-Flow Modeling
Author(s): Oren Zuckerman, & Mitchel Resnick
  Research has shown that people have difficulties understanding dynamic behavior. In an attempt to better understand the nature of these difficulties, we have developed a new modeling tool and conducted an exploratory study with young children. The modeling tool, called System Blocks, is a set of communicating ...
Concept Learning - Feedback Loops
Author(s): Steve Wilhite
  This paper describes a project Steve Wilhite completed in 2008, for a class in his instructional systems technology program. It is an instructional analysis for a lesson on the concept of feedback loops.
Does a Model Facilitate Learning? Some preliminary experimental findings
Author(s): David Wheat, Robin Goldstein, & Larry Weathers
  The purpose of the experiment described in this paper is to compare the learning that takes place with different methods of delivering essentially the same information about Gross Domestic Product to student groups. The main delivery methods discussed are (1) simple narrative only, and (2) the same ...
How Is This Similar to That? The skill of recognizing parallel dynamic structures on center stage
Author(s): Linda Booth Sweeney
  This article is intended to put systems educators' daily work in context for educational researchers and to highlight a central skill for schools seeking to teach students to see, understand, and ultimately affect the systems around them.
Learning System Thinking: The role of semiotic and cognitive resources
Author(s): Maria Larsson
  Three empirical studies provide detailed analyses of video-recorded collaborative work in System Dynamics education. In a Masters program in environmental studies, students are introduced to systems thinking and the method of creating Causal Loop Diagrams and interactive computer models for analyzing ...
  Link to the file:
Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling within K-12 Schools: Effects on Student Learning
Author(s): Anne LaVigne
  The increasing trend of use of systems thinking and dynamic modeling could not have occurred without a network of educators who saw the benefits for their students and who worked and continue to work on developing capacity to apply systems thinking and dynamic modeling within classroom instruction and ...
Teaching Characteristics of Complex Systems in K-12 Education: Lessons Learned
Author(s): Jennifer Andersen, Anne LaVigne, & Lees Stuntz
  This paper describes lessons learned while completing a pilot project initiated by Professor Jay Forrester through the Creative Learning Exchange. The goal of the Characteristics of Complex Systems Project (CCSP) is to create online curriculum materials for K-12 students and interested adults that will ...
The Feedback Method : A System Dynamics Approach to Teaching Macroeconomics
Author(s): David Wheat
  This thesis documents a method for improving undergraduate instruction in macroeconomics. Called the feedback method, it enables students to learn about dynamic behavior in a market economy by using feedback loop diagrams and interactive computer simulation models instead of static graphs or differential ...
  Link to the file:
Using Systems Thinking to Improve Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes: Reflections on a Pilot Study in Land Economics
Author(s): Leah Greden Mathews , & Andrew Jones
  Abstract: Systems thinking is an inquiry-based method of learning that uses the technique of perspective-taking, fosters holistic thinking, and engages in belief-testing. This paper describes a pilot study in an undergraduate Land Economics course that investigated how systems thinking could be used ...
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