Transcript of Systems thinking

Systems thinking video


The new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus was released by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) in 2017. This resource is designed to support teachers' knowledge and understanding of the Science and Technology K-6 syllabus, in particular, the inclusion of four thinking skills.

These thinking skills are computational thinking, design thinking, scientific thinking and systems thinking. These four thinking skills encompass the productive, purposeful and intentional thinking that underpins effective learning in science and technology. This video will explore the thinking skill systems thinking and how it is embedded in the new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.

As the table shows, systems thinking skills are embedded within various content strands of the new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.

[Table cells are coloured to indicate where opportunities to embed systems thinking are found in the Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus across particular stages and content strands.The table shows that systems thinking can be embedded across all stages and content strands except digital technologies in Early Stage 1, Stage 1 and Stage 3]

Opportunities to embed systems thinking skills are identified by the SysT abbreviation after individual syllabus dot points. So what is systems thinking?

Systems thinking is an understanding of how related objects or components interact to influence how a system functions. Understanding the complexity of systems and the interdependence of components is important for scientific research and for the creation of solutions to technical, economic and social issues.

There are five key components of systems thinking which include: big picture - forming a generalised overview of a system, connections - identifying the interdependencies within a system and how they are connected, changes - assessing changes to the system over time, impact - identifying the impact of actions within the system and outcome - assessing the probability, risk and benefits of actions within the system.

Students will already be familiar with a number of complex systems in their everyday lives. Their local transport system, for example, might include trains, buses, trams or ferries all working together to deliver passengers to their destinations on time. Similarly, the human body is another complex system of which students will have some understanding. This system, like many systems, is made up of smaller interdependent components such as the nervous system and digestive system. Like the transport system, however, if one or more of these components is not working well or shuts down, it is very difficult for the system, as a whole, to operate effectively.

Problem-solving is at the core of systems thinking. When working with systems, it is not only important to be able to identify how interdependent components interact but also to anticipate potential problems and, if necessary, define solutions. No system is perfect, and a system that fails to adapt to its surroundings or respond to change will ultimately struggle.

Introducing systems that operate at a school level can be an exciting way for students to engage in systems thinking.

[Big picture – ST1-11DI-T: explore and identify patterns in data]

Students might explore the school’s current merit system and create a flowchart for younger students explaining how the system works.

Similarly, students could explore the systems that operate within their school canteen. Because systems vary in complexity, the depth of exploration of this system can be adjusted according to stage level.

For example, students in Stage 1 might explore how orders are placed at the canteen and delivered to students in their classroom.

[Outcome – ST1-5LW-T: explore the tools, equipment and techniques used to prepare food safely and hygienically for healthy eating]

[The diagram shows a canteen with – order placed, food prepared, collected by canteen monitor, food delivered to classrooms and food eaten – around it.]

Students in Stage 3 might go deeper, looking at a specific product within the canteen and exploring the agricultural, manufacturing and transport systems that operate to deliver food to the canteen.

[Changes – ST3-5LW-T: explore examples of managed environments used to produce food and fibre]

[The diagram shows steps taken to produce the ingredients to make a cheese sandwich in the school canteen using three ingredients: bread, cheese and butter. It moves from a wheat grown interstate, to manufactured by bread company to bread. The diagram then moves from milk produced at local farm, manufactured by diary company to cheese and milk. The bread and cheese icons move to purchased at supermarket and butter moves to delivered by distributor. The purchased at supermarket and delivered by distributor icons both meet at cheese sandwich.]

Students might also consider ways of making this system better by identifying some of the problems that exist in the current context. Are there ways to minimise incorrect orders or missing items? Are there systems in place for students that forget to order or lose their money? Is there potential to digitise the system by ordering online?

In fact, over the past 20 years, the biggest impact on systems has been the significant improvement in our ability to communicate using technology.

[Impact – ST3-11DI-T: identify and explain how existing information systems meet the needs of present and future communities]

Many systems that once required people to be present in-person have been moved online, allowing people to do their banking, go shopping, attend university and even play video games with people on the other side of the world.

Although these digital systems have made things more convenient, they still carry the same potential for problems as their analogue predecessors. Think of a time when your mobile GPS system sent you the wrong way or the WIFI wasn’t working at home or school.

[Wrong way. Go Back]

[Running WIFI check]

[WIFI now connected]

A well-structured system embeds backup plans or develops workarounds for such problems.

It is also important for students to understand how systems operate beyond human contexts. In Stage 2 - living things, for example, the inquiry question; ‘how are environments and living things interdependent?’, lends itself nicely to an exploration of systems thinking.

[Connections – ST2-4LW-S: describe how living things depend on each other and the environment to survive]

Students might explore the system of pollination involving bees and flowers, how food chains and food webs form the basis of ecosystems or the interesting world of symbiosis where organisms work together for mutual benefit. This understanding of environmental systems is an important precursor for the examination of more complex systems, such as the water cycle, which students explore more explicitly in Stage 4.

Systems thinking is an important addition to the new Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus. Systems of varying complexity are operating around us at all times and the ability to identify, problematise and improve these systems is an important skill for students to develop.

The science and technology page on the NSW Department of Education website contains additional syllabus implementation support materials for teachers, including professional development opportunities. If you would like further information about syllabus implementation, please contact the science and technology K-6 curriculum team on the details below.

[Science and technology K-6 curriculum support.]


[This video features the song “Sunny” by Bensound. copyright © 2019 licensed under a Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivs (3.0) license.]

[© 2017 NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales.]

End of transcript.

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