The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 13, 2004


What is Systems Thinking?

Systems Thinking is "a bunch of tools," said systems mentor and grade 8 mathematics teacher Rob Quaden. The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) heard a presentation on the integration of Systems Thinking in the curriculum of the Carlisle School on February 4.

Quaden said there is a focus on patterns of behavior which show how "complexity drives itself." These patterns of behavior can be made into, and are illustrated by, simple graphs and diagrams.

The presentation by systems mentor Alan Ticotsky and Quaden stated that Systems Thinking is "a set of tools that helps us map and explore dynamic complexity." It also is "a perspective that sharpens our awareness of the whole and of how the parts within those wholes interrelate." There is of course a "special vocabulary with which we express our understanding of dynamic complexity."

It seems complicated but the children in the school are learning about "dynamic modeling" based on graphics and graphs. All students, kindergarten through grade eight, have at least one exposure per year to a systems activity. The activity reinforces the curriculum and is planned according to the developmental level of the children. Ticotsky said that in second grade the children are starting to use the systems tools but by the eighth grade the students are able to have more exposure and complex assignments in their curriculum.

The job of these two teachers is not only to have direct involvement in the lessons with the students but also to team teach and to provide support, guidance and training. To make the lessons work the teachers need to learn and be comfortable with the style of computer modeling and systems thinking. Apart from school responsibilities Quaden and Ticotsky also write, make presentations, and attend conferences on the programs formulated in the Carlisle school curriculum.

"Before we work with the students we need to have inroads with the teacher," said Quaden. Ticotsky went on to say, "Systems thinking can really overlap with science and math." Both agreed that what is unique in the Carlisle School is the support and respect from the administration. "It encourages the teachers to try new ideas. It is a very reinforcing and unique culture," said Quaden.

"We are becoming a popular site for visitors even though we feel our program is in its infancy," said Ticotsky. There are three other programs in New England (Chelmsford, Harvard and one in Vermont).

This year the Carlisle Public School has been granted $85,000 by the Waters Foundation and has become one of the 12 premier sites for the integration of systems thinking in schools in the country. This includes being hosts to visitors from such places as Singapore and Denmark as well as other schools in the United States.

"Everyone asks," said Quaden, "how do we know it is working? It is difficult to answer but observations are promising." He went on the say that it is difficult to give "hard data" answers but the "kids are engaged and enthusiastic. The kids are actively involved and the learning is hands-on and collaborative. The test scores are good. We are not researchers, we trust our teachers."

CSC Chair David Dockterman thanked the two teachers for the presentation and reiterated, "We are so distinctive here in what we do. There are only 12 sites in the country so we need to disseminate our information." Superintendent Fox-Melanson said, "Rob Quaden and Alan Ticotsky have exceeded our expectations. They challenge each other and have contributed much to the students. One can't quantify it. It continues the vision of the school, and the kids are the beneficiaries." Proponent of Systems Thinking and Peter Senge author of the Fifth Discipline will be the keynote speaker at the Carlisle Educational Forum on Saturday, April 3.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito