Lesson 4: Systems Thinking Tools (Preview)


Participants will deepen their understanding of systems dynamics and to learn how systems thinking tools can be introduced into specific aspects of their curricular learning plans to enhance learning and integrate sustainability.

During this lesson participants will define what systems are and be introduced to basic systems thinking concepts and terms such as:

  • Stocks and flows
  • Sources and sinks
  • Feedback and feedback loops
  • Delays
  • Non linear effects

A basic understanding of systems thinking is a necessary foundation for educators to explore complex systemic relationships such as those that exist between the human and natural worlds.

Skill in the use of systems thinking tools equips educators with practical approaches to exploring the function and behavior of systems with students. During this lesson participants will examine a system scenario using the following systems thinking tools:

  • The Iceberg Model
  • Behavior over time graphs
  • Closed loop diagrams

Finally participants will relate their interpretation of the scenario back to the Compass

Essential Question: How can systems thinking tools be effectively utilized to enhance teaching and learning?

Outcome: Explore the educational uses of systems thinking tools (behavior over time graphs, closed loop diagrams and the Iceberg Model)

Note: This unit/lesson is somewhat longer than the previous ones. Feel free to take your time to engage with the content and skills presented and feel free to ask questions if necessary. 



    • READ: chapter four from Believing Cassandra 
    • WATCH: Watch Video: A Systems Story (video located in the resource section below)
      • 4(a) Reflect on Believing Cassandra chapter four
      • 4(b) Reflect on the parallels between love and system dynamics
    • WATCH: Video: Iceberg Thinking (video located in the resource section below)
    • WATCH: Video 4(iii) Ask the Question (video located in resource section below)
      • 4(c) Reflect on the event in the scenario presented in Ask the Question
    • WATCH: Video 4(iv) College Student Anxiety (video located in resource section below)
    • READ: Read Students Under Pressure
      • 4(d) Utilizing the iceberg model reflect on the patterns and trends of mental health issues amongst North American college students
        •  Was the student in the video an isolated case or part of something bigger?
      • 4(e) Reflect on the systems and structures that are shaping trends in mental health issues amongst North American college students
        • Consider systems that are direct and indirect influences on the experience of a typical North American college student
      • 4(f) Reflect on the mindsets that condition the systems and structures that shape the patters related to mental health in North American college students
        • what are the prevailing assumptions and worldviews of the people/culture that has created the systems that are leading to rising anxiety in college students?
    • WATCH: Video 4(v) Causal Diagrams and/or 4(vi) Introduction to Causal Loops  (video located in the resource section below)
    • READ: Protracted Learning website (link here) to see how a causal loop diagram can explain the age-old problems of the chicken and the egg as well as the chicken crossing the road
      • 4(g) Reflect on the feedback that increasingly anxious students provides to the US college system
        1. Will rising anxiety levels lead students to combat the root structural cause of their anxieties? Or
        2. Will rising anxiety levels have a reinforcing effect on the structures that create anxiety?
      • 4(h) Draw a simple Closed Loop Diagram (CLD) to represent your perspective of feedback mechanisms suggested in 4(e) using only the two system elements below:
        • Rising student anxiety
        • Causes of students anxiety
      • 4(i) Reflect on how the mental health issues analyzed in the exemplar scenario influence the overall sustainability of the US college system
    • WATCH: Watch the video 4(vii) Systems Thinking Behavior Over Time Graphs (in the resource section below)
      • 4(j) Create a Behavior Over Time Graph (BOTG) to indicate a trend that interests you. Feel free to elaborate on what you’ve graphed.
      • Submit a summary reflection detailing the extent to which you see opportunities (and/or barriers) for integrating the following into your teaching:
        • Sustainability dispositions
        • The Compass
        • The Iceberg
        • Behavior over Time (BOTs)
        • Closed Loop Diagrams (CLDs)


Video for 4(i) A Systems Story

Video 4(ii) Iceberg Thinking

Video 4(iii) Ask the Question

Video 4(iv) College Student Anxiety

Watch Video 4(v) Causal Diagrams

Video 4(vi) Introduction to Causal Loops

Video 4(vii) Behavior Over Time Graphs

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Compass Education Level 1: Sustainability Education

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