The focus of our current UOI is healthy living – “what we eat and how we look after our bodies is related to the sustainability of our health.” The concept of causation is a driving force in this unit to help move the students beyond the facts and knowledge. In particular this unit presents a wonderful opportunity of developing in the students an ability to think in sytemic ways.
After reading the book “When a Butterfly Sneezes” by Linda Booth Sweeney, I set about using some of her suggestions of introducing the concept of systems thinking through literature. I first read to the students the HCA classic “The Emporers New Clothes” (quite a few children had never heard this story), we discussed what happened in the book. I then modeled a way to record the significant issues that had clear causal connections, using a simple linear style, and another way that used causal feedback loops. One child aptly made a connection saying “oh it’s like a butterfly,” recalling her previous knowledge from G1 unit on living things. I then challenged students to make their own causal diagrams about any of the issues that seemed to repeat in the story. The students responded with interest and decent engagement, which does not always happen when I challenge them to think! We repeated the same process with a Dr Suess book – “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,” again I modeled one example and the students then had a go at making their own loops and connections. On the third occasion I read the book “The Lorax,” this time I did not model the thinking, but used our previous examples as a cue. One child said “oh that round and round thinking,” I liked his way of describing it, because I am often challenged by dumbing down terminology to a G2 level – so we have now adopted the term as part of our systems thinking vocabulary. I plan to continue to develop this thinking skill using literature throughout the unit, but my main goal is to get the students to transfer these skills to show their conceptual understanding of healthy living (a future blog post I will share).
In education we tend to assess what we value and, although I am not a gambling man I think it a safe bet to say, I could walk into most schools and access data that shows the trajectory of a students progress in reading, writing or mathematical skills. However, would I find the same documentation of a students progress in thinking systemically? Maybe… but I beleive it would be an exception rather than a rule. Of course thinking skills can and mutually need to be subject specific, but more and more we are living in a world of transferable skills. The ability to think systemically is needed in our world like never before, human evolution, growth and our global interconnectedness, reveals new issues and challenges that demand our attention. Pursuing simplistic cause/effect solutions are like putting sticking plasters on a machete wound – they’re just not up to the job, we need to think on a deeper level. Look at the way many governments tackle road congestion (“take a ride around the M25 the next time you visit London to get my point”).
I believe teaching kids about the skills of systems thinking should be equally as important as teaching kids to learn their times tables. But… Which one gets more coverage in your school?