The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 12, 2000


Systems thinking lessons now online

The Carlisle Public School staff and administrators frequently mention systems thinking and system dynamics and how pleased everyone is with the student response to this teaching approach. Systems thinking and system dynamics are now a part of the annual goals and all of the teachers are building their systems skills. Carlisle receives a generous grant from the Waters Foundation to support this effort. However, because this is all quite new, residents might still wonder, "What does it actually look like in the classroom? What do the kids actually do?"

Now, people can find the lessons online. Rob Quaden and Alan Ticotsky, Carlisle systems mentors, have worked with teachers throughout the school to develop lessons using systems tools. Their goal is to help teachers use the systems approach to enhance what they are already teaching. The enthusiastic response of students speaks to the teachers' success and motivates further use in the curriculum. Similar pioneering efforts are going on at several other schools across the country, and a web site is set up to share curriculum materials, including those from Carlisle. Now, teachers across the country are using Carlisle lessons with their students.

The web site, maintained at MIT, is free for anyone to explore. To read more about system dynamics, systems thinking, and just what Carlisle kids are actually doing, go to: Curriculum materials are available through the Creative Learning Exchange link under the Annotated List of Materials. These are examples of Carlisle lessons:

About systems education

"Consider the gypsy moth: an example of system dynamics for Carlisle" (SE1994-11) This brief paper explains how system dynamics can work in a curriculum by explaining how the gypsy moth population grows exponentially and collapses.

"Systems thinking in 25 words or less" (SE1995-08) This brief paper attempts to answer the frequently asked questions, "Just what is systems thinking anyway and what does it have to do with education?"

"The in and out game: a preliminary system dynamics modeling lesson" (SE1999-09) Primary (K-2) students play a classroom game to learn about stocks and flows and simple graphing. The game is adapted for students up to grade 8. Older students build their own STELLA computer models of the concrete game. (STELLA is system dynamics simulation software published by High Performance Systems.)

Cross-curricular lesson plans

"Let it roll! An interdisciplinary middle school math/science unit using a STELLA model of the physics of motion" (CC1997-01) This was our first lesson. Eighth graders roll cars down ramps and build a STELLA model to understand the behavior.

"The mammoth extinction game" (CC1999-04) Third graders studying the Ice Ages play a classroom dice game and graph the extinction of their herds. They then play the game on a STELLA model to understand the process of extinction. This unit incorporates social studies, science and math.


"Introduction to linear models: using STELLA to solve word problems" (MAI999-09) Eighth-grade algebra students use this alternative way to understand and solve typical problems about behavior over time.


"Grow, grow, grow? A middle school microbiology unit using a STELLA model of yeast population dynamics (SC1999-01) Seventh-graders grow yeast cells in a laboratory and extend the experiment by using a STELLA model of the yeast population to test growth under varying temperatures and initial conditions.

"It's cool! An experiment and a modeling lesson (SC1999-09) Fifth-graders measure and graph the temperature of a cooling cup of boiled water. They then build STELLA models of the behavior, including feedback.

Lessons still in progress

"The friendship game" K-2 students play a classroom game showing how friendship spreads, as part of their social competency curriculum. They graph the behavior.

"The Insect Game" Sixth-graders play a classroom game with beads representing insect crop infestations. They draw causal loop diagrams to show that pesticides have the unintended consequence of producing resistant insects. Antibiotic overuse is a similar pattern.

"Drawing and reading behavior over time graphs" Eighth-grade math students use pencil and paper activities to sharpen skills in thinking and communicating, using graphs. (Example: velocity and distance)

New ways to improve current lessons are always under development as teachers gain more experience with the systems approach. The Carlisle Public School is pleased with this progress and hopes that the web site helps explain it to others. Feedback is always welcome.

Under the aegis of Gordon S. Brown Fund, Debra Lyneis writes up many of the Carlisle lessons for publication on the site.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito