Category Archives: systems

Book: Thing Explainer- Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-8-02-51-pmFile this one under “fun” but I’m sure most science educators can find several uses for this book with students. I have owned Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe (Creator of xkcd) for a couple of years. I keep it in my office and every so often I find myself opening it up and spending several minutes examining the brilliant labeled diagrams (they are amazing detailed systems models) that show how common and important living and designed systems work.

Mr. Monroe committed to using only the “ten hundred” most common words. This constraint creates a beautiful simplicity that gets to the essence of these systems. As science teachers we can learn a lesson from this. Too often we value vocabulary words as evidence of student understanding. Perhaps we should push more for simplified explanations that use everyday language.

I think that any human being will find this book to be interesting and any scientist, engineer, or STEM educator will also find it to be inspiring and valuable. There is something about the clearly illustrated systems models that mesh perfectly with the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards. This book also makes a wonderful gift.


LINK: Thing Explainer

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WA State: FREE Online Workshop- From Systems, Inquiry, & Application to the NGSS

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K-8 teachers of science in Washington state may be interested in a FREE online workshop I created using as a platform.

The workshop is titled- From Systems, Inquiry, & Application to the NGSS. The goals of the workshop are for participants to:

  • gain a deeper understanding of Systems, Inquiry, and Application in the WA Science Learning Standards
  • gain an awareness of the 3 dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (Practices of Science & Engineering, Crosscutting Concepts, & Disciplinary Core Ideas)
  • gain multiple tools and resources for teaching students about Systems, Inquiry, & Application with connections to NGSS (Systems Handbook, Application Handbook, and lessons based on narrative text)

The workshop is:

  • Asynchronous- (You attend when you want and engage with materials in the order you want)
  • FREE
  • Based on a series of mostly short video “lectures” where participants engage with articles, videos, links, and make sense of the materials
  • and it’s FREE


A. I view this as a pilot and would love feedback from participants on what worked for your learning and what could be improved. I hope to create future courses with a better production value.

B. This workshop has an intentional focus on the Washington Science Learning Standards. Participants looking for a workshop with a sole focus on the NGSS should look elsewhere.

Click HERE to access the course. Enjoy!

Using Technology to Connect Students and the Environment

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 9.28.07 AMNational Environmental Education Foundation just released an educator toolkit titled: Using Technology to Connect Students and the Environment. This will be a perfect set of resources to get prepared for Environmental Education Week April 14-20, 2013. Check out the site for lots of other resources for getting kids outside to do some science.

Click HERE to download the toolkit.

Click HERE if you cannot see the embedded video overview below.

NASA eClips: Systems Video

I was working with some middle school science teachers today and they shared a NASA eClips video on systems. In Washington state, our science standards have a focus on systems and the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards also include systems as a crosscutting concept. This in one of the few videos I’ve found online that provides a good overview of systems ideas. Click HERE if you cannot see the embedded clip below.

Basic Systems Questions

I am a self-professed “systems nerd”.. I love systems thinking, conduct professional development on systems thinking, and am constantly on the lookout for new tools and resources regarding systems. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you another tool from the incomparable Tom Hathorn (a fellow systems nerd).. The Basic Systems Questions Framework. This one-pager represents the basic systems questions that relate to all levels K-12:

1. Parts– What are the most important properties? What are their functions?

2. Whole–  What is the system’s function? How is this different from any parts?

3. Interactions– What are the important connections? What actions occur between parts?

4. Beyond- What is beyond the system boundary? What are the system inputs and outputs? How does it interact with other systems?

This sheet can be used to examine physical systems such as a pendulum, a living system such as a plant, or an Earth/Space system such as a model of Earth’s tectonic plates. This resource directly supports WA Science Learning Standards and may be useful as we transition to systems as a cross cutting concept in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Click HERE to download a copy of the Basic Systems Questions sheet- this tool will be added to the next version of the K-5 Systems Handbook. Enjoy- and I’ll be interested to hear how you plan to use this in the fall.

K-5 Systems Standards: A Handbook

The K-5  Systems Handbook ver 1.1 is my attempt to create one document to raise awareness of systems standards and to support better understanding and teaching of systems ideas.

The K-5 Systems Handbook ver 1.1 contains:

  • a preface describing the importance of systems thinking and the rationale for the handbook
  • an overview of systems standards in national science standard documents, in Washington state science standards, and Washington state Test & Item specs
  • a small set of tools for teaching systems: frameworks, systems questions, 3 sample lessons (including a literacy lesson)
  • an emerging table of opportunities to teach systems within FOSS science kits- (would love to make this more explicit and robust)
  • links to more systems resources online

I’m hoping this will be a helpful starting place for other districts, buildings, and teachers in creating your own Systems Handbook ver 1.1 that meets the needs of your context.  And as always, I would love to hear how you use such a tool and how you have modified it for success.

Also- if you are using this handbook in a professional development setting you may be interested in the Systems Handbook facilitation guide– it’s drafty but at least it’s a starting place.

The Cell: An Image Library

The Cell: An Image Library is a FREE, searchable database of images, video, and animations related to cells, cell processes, and cell parts. This seems like a useful resource for teachers and learners of life science ideas. There are lots of visuals that can provide another model or piece of evidence for students to build a deeper understanding of cells, how they work, and how they are a part of larger systems. Lots of stunning images here!

Linda Booth Sweeney: More Resources on Systems Thinking

Linda Booth Sweeney maintains both a web site and blog dedicated to systems thinking. Linda’s site provides some guiding information such as: 12 Living System Principles and 12 Habits of Mind. The site also has an excellent Systems Resource Room with an extensive list of books, articles, simulations, sites, etc.

These sites will be of interest to science educators who are looking to:

1. improve their understanding and teaching of Systems Standards

2. consider Systems Thinking as a specialized language, a fresh perspective, and a set of tools for solving problems

I highly recommend adding these two sites to your “systems” bookmarks- enjoy

Assessing Systems Thinking & Complexity in Science

Assessing Systems Thinking and Complexity in Science is a 2010 report from SRI International that provides guidance in considering how to effectively assess systems thinking on large scale state assessments. The report provides:

– a concise overview of systems thinking and complexity

– a review of literature on systems thinking and complexity

– A helpful table of Systems Thinking Competencies

– Overview of evidence-centered approach to assessment design.

– Design pattern for systems thinking an complexity. This is a great resource not only for building large scale assessments but also for  building classroom assessments. Click HERE to see the Design Pattern for Systems Thinking and Complexity.

This report seems most appropriate for anyone looking to increase their understanding of systems thinking, large scale assessment, or design patterns.

Building a Systems “Handbook” on LiveBinders

In my continuing pursuit of increasing my own learning about Systems Thinking and also sharing resources about Systems Thinking- I have started to build a Systems Thinking Handbook using a web tool called LiveBinders. LiveBinders allows you to build a virtual binder to organize websites, documents, videos, etc in a logical tabbed way.

Click HERE to see the DRAFT handbook… feedback is highly appreciated. It is not “pretty” yet but I would love ideas for further resources and a tab structure. This intent of this resource is to organize Systems Thinking: resources, lessons, tools, books, websites, standards, etc… in one place.