Nov 9, 2020,04:34pm EST
Why Students Should Be Taught Systems Thinking Starting In Kindergarten – Julia Brodsky
We live in a world of complex, interconnected systems. They range from big corporations and the Earth’s biosphere to social networks and our own bodies. Complex systems have many components that interact with each other in dynamic patterns. They chug along quietly and uneventfully until, one day, they unexpectedly turn our world upside down. Hurricanes and pandemics, elections and market crashes – all inevitable products of complex systems – ceaselessly remind us of our limited understanding of the world. What’s missing is the ability to notice and comprehend the counterintuitive nature of complex systems. This ability, called “systems thinking,” is recognized by educators, scientists and entrepreneurs as one of the most valuable skills for the 21st century.
The concept of systems thinking was introduced several decades ago by the late Jay Forrester of the MIT Sloan School of Management, who founded the field of systems dynamics to describe economic behavior and advance management education. Forrester recognized that systems thinking could, and should, be taught to students starting at an early age. Dr. Tracy Benson, the President and CEO of the Waters Center for Systems Thinking and one of the international leaders in the field of systems thinking education, is helping to implement Forrester’s vision. The Waters Center provides training in habits, strategies, and tools of systems thinking to educators and entrepreneurs around the world.
A recent longitudinal study conducted by the Waters Center explored the benefits of systems thinking in schools. The study found that systems thinking helped students connect their learning to real-world problems, improve their decision-making, and consider the unintended consequences of their choices. Likewise, a framework for K-12 Science Education developed by the National Academy of Sciences recommends the incorporation of concepts such as “stability and change” and “systems models” into the science syllabus. The framework, which informs state-level educational decisions, draws on the most recent scientific research on the best ways for students to learn science. However, systems thinking has yet to become a backbone for a modern school curriculum.
When it comes to incorporating systems thinking into science education, grade school may be the ideal place to start. Primary school students enjoy discovering interdependencies in the world around them. For example, they may examine the effects of their actions on family and friends and then observe how those actions come back to impact them, often after substantial delays. Older children are eager to learn how remote astronomical events affect life on Earth and how climate change doomed ancient societies. Older children may explore the effects of inadequate healthcare policies on the national economy and education. A variety of tools, from computer simulations to educational video games – which have become widely available in recent years – can provide new opportunities to gently introduce systems thinking concepts.
Enhanced systems thinking has the potential to inform children’s perspectives in all areas of their lives for years to come, from personal relationships and social interactions to business decisions and political involvement. After all, complex systems are all around us. If our role as parents and educators is to prepare our children to thrive in the uncertain and fast-changing future, we may want to focus on systems thinking early on.Check out my website. Julia Brodsky