Crosscutting Concept 1: Systems Thinking

To foster science literacy, it is essential to engage learners in systems thinking (Sabelli, 2006) because it facilitates integrating knowledge across science domains and provides a unifying concept for learners to make sense of the natural world and relate microscopic components underlying a particular phenomenon to macroscopic observations detected in our visible world. For example, it is often challenging for students to understand how the interactions among particles at the microscopic level (or as some would say, the nanoscopic level) are related to the properties of matter at the macroscopic level. Systems thinking is required to develop such an understanding. Unfortunately, most of the commercially available K-12 science instructional materials do not intentionally target systems thinking.
A system is “an entity that maintains its existence and functions as a whole through the interactions of its parts” (Assaraf & Orion, 2005, p. 519). Systems thinking tends to involve the analysis of scientific phenomena and problems in wider contexts, considers multiple and nonlinear cause-and-effect relationships, and understands change over time (Hogan, 2000; National Research Council, 1996). Systems thinking is a skill that is related to both the nature of science and nature itself, but is often neglected in the design of learning and assessment environments (Golan & Reiser, 2002; Wilensky & Resnick, 1999).
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