Talking About Systems: looking for systems in the news (and not)

Systems Thinking for Kids: The Kitchen Sink

I pulled together a list of my”systems thinking for kids” work (articles, blogs, interviews, games, teachers guides, etc.) for a possible funder. I thought you all might enjoy browsing through the curated  list:

Learning to Connect the Dots (An article in Solutions, republished in Utne Reader. My best attempt so far at explaining why it makes sense for kids to “think about systems”.  Lots of practical activities at the end.) 

Center for Ecoliteracy: If you cut a cow in half, do you get two cows?(Interview. talking with kids about living systems).   

Huffington Post (Article, ways to help children see beyond the obvious)

Connected Wisdom:  (Good old stories about living systems, along with fun activities in the teachers guide, free training module and more. Just follow the yellow flower icon.) I’m happy to report that we have two NEW Connected Wisdom resources:  A teachers’ guide and an on-line, video-based, training module (both are free).  If you love all things related to LIVING SYSTEMS and STORIES, read the lost endnotes (cut by the publisher!) to Connected Wisdom. 

Highlights Magazine for Children:  (A “systems thinking for kids” view of wolves in Yellowstone.)  

Systems Thinking Playkits:  (Interactive game for kids, 8-88!  Wolf kit too). 

Talking to Teens About Texting:  (Uses a true story about a teen party that spiraled out of control to sneak in a lesson about exponential growth)

PBS — City Farm Game.  (Working with PBS,  we incorporated systems literacy concepts into this on-line game for middle school students.  Try it!)

Little Pickle Press Post (Learning about reinforcing feedback through a true story of sibling rivalry.)

The Farm as Classroom: (Using the farm to “think about systems”.  Written for farmer-educators.)

And the one that started it all:  When a Butterfly Sneezes:  A Guide for Exploring Interconnections in Our World Through Favorite Children’s Stories. (Using pictures books , many of which are likely on your bookshelf, to encourage children to “connect the dots” and other systems thinking habits of mind):  You can order this  book through Leveraged Networks (Contact Rebecca Niles – rebecca@leveragenetworks.com, or Kris Wile kris@leveragenetworks.com).

Although The Systems Thinking Playbook/DVD  (30 experiential activities to build systems thinking habits of mind) wasn’t originally written for children,  I frequently receive notes from educators who use it in their classrooms, so I’ll add it here. (The Creative Learning Exchange has made connections between the Playbook and their Connection to Characteristics of Complex Systems Project.  See www.clexchange.org to learn more).  And some good news:  The System Thinking Playbook is now available as an e-book (and available on Apple, B&N and VOOK as well).

 

Museums + Systems Thinking:  I worked this year with the Mishkat Interactive Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy and the amazing team at KCA London to integrate systems thinking into the Saudi Arabia 2050 traveling exhibit designed to encourage middle school students in Saudi Arabia to rethink energy consumption habits. A fantastic project!  I’ll post pictures when I can.

Digital Media: As part of a collaborative initiative with the University of Indiana, the National Writing Project, the Institute of Play, and Digital Youth Network, I worked with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media Learning Initiative to produce a series of digital design activities to cultivate systems thinking in middle school students.  The books are done and will be available in early 2014.  I’ll post a link when I get it.  

And finally, I recently started an author’s page on Facebook that gives updates on my  work and occasional inspiration. You can “like” if here (if you like):https://www.facebook.com/lindaboothsweeney 

 

 

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The Little Red Book That Could

I just returned from a two day Systems Thinking-Systems Practice seminar in Seattle.  Fritjof Capra* and I partnered to run the seminar for a remarkable cohort of Organization Systems Renewal (OSR) students at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

OSR cohort, with myself and Fritjof Capra (seated), and with twins, River and Rain

I could dedicate this blog to OSR, a one-of-a-kind, two-year master’s program that takes a deep dive into applied systems thinking and design thinking.

But for now, I just want to crow!
Throughout the two-days we used activities from the Systems Thinking Playbook, a book I first wrote in 1995 and then co-authored second and third volumes with master systems dynamicist Dennis Meadows.

Eighteen years later I am delighted say, this little red book is still chugging.  The exercises remain relevant, flex to different learning objectives and give folks a chance to learn to “think about systems” while having fun.

Throughout the two-day seminar, we wove in five different Playbook exercises.  Each one was designed to help the students explore, experientially a particular perspective or systems principle.

The pictures below show us doing the Avalanche game (see page 215 of the Playbook for the full set of instructions and debrief).  

Who said learning couldn't be fun?

If you haven’t played Avalanche, here’s how it goes:

Imagine that this hula hoop is a problem – it could be low market share, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, the gap between the rich and the poor.

The goal of this exercise is to reduce the problem (e.g., improve market share, lower concentrations of GHG) by taking the hoop to the ground

 There are two rules:

1) You are touching the hoop with the top of your finger. (The hoop rests lightly on the top of one finger)

2) Never lose contact with the hoop

When I say “Go!”,  the group attempts to lower the hoop to the ground

What happens?  90% of the time the hoop goes up instead of down. (This doesn’t happen if the hoops are too heavy).

From there, you’ve got the group’s attention.  Why did this happen? Where do we see this happen in real life — increases in GHG emissions, environmental damage, widening gaps, lower market share — when we’re looking for the opposite results?

A key insight here is that as long as the rules are in place,  the hoop is going to go up.  The rules produce the behavior.  If you want different behavior, you want different rules.

The Systems Thinking Playbook and DVD is available through Chelsea Green PublishersAmazon, and soon through Leveraged Networks.  (For more information on Leverage Networks, contact Rebecca Niles – rebecca@leveragenetworks.com, or Kris Wile kris@leveragenetworks.com).  The Playbook will be available as an eBook (through VOOK) by December 15.

The Systems Thinking Playbook for Climate Change will be available in early 2014.  This version includes a set of new and adapted Playbook activities that will be useful to those who are trying to communicate with others about the causes and consequences of climate change (Authors: Linda Booth Sweeney, Dennis Meadows and the brilliant Gillian Martin-Mehers).  Stay tuned.

*Fritjof has a new book out on Leonardo Da Vinci as a systems thinker.  I’ll write more about this in my next post.

 

 

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The Next Big Thing

Thanks to fellow children’s author, Joyce Ray (Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, fall, 2013 Apprentice Shop Books) for inviting me to participate in the online literary blog called MY NEXT BIG THING. 

The blog is a series of questions about works-in-progress and not yet published titles. Many national and international writers have participated in this. It gives readers a glimpse into the working life of a writer. Part of the fun is tagging someone else. It is with great delight that I will be tagging two other writers at the end of this post.

What is your next BIG THING?  My NEXT BIG THING is a picture book  about the early life of R. Buckminster Fuller. “Bucky” as his family and friends called him, was an American architect, inventor, systems theoriest, poet and teacher best known for his invention of the geodesic dome.  Bucky was born “cross-eyed and near blind”, a condition that would shape the way he saw the world for the rest of his life. In his eyes, his steel tricycle, hard and cold to the touch, blended with house and the yard. Nothing was separate.  Everything and everybody seemed to Bucky to blend into something else. As an adult, he would never lose that awareness that the earth was tightly connected into one complete whole.  If he ever needed a reminder of that, he could simply take off his glasses “to see what I saw when I was four and a half years old.”   Most of the book focuses on the summers he spent on Bear, a speck of an island 10 miles off the coast of Maine in Penobscot Bay.

 What is the working title of your new book? I’m working on that right now.  He was perceived as quite the troublemaker as a kid, so I might work that into the title.

Where did the idea come from for the book? I took an Outward Bound trip in my twenties, and after spending three nights, four days on solo, I became fascinated by living systems, how they work, their patterns, how I’m part of them.  As I began to studying in the field of complex systems theory, I discovered Bucky alongside Ludwig von BertalanffyJoanna Macy, Donella Meadows, Elise Boulding, Russ Ackoff, Peter Senge and Fritjof Capra, and other systems thinkers. He has always fascinated me. Now that I have children, I want to share some of that fascination with them and other kids.

What genre does your book fall under?  A non-fiction picture book biography for ages 6 and up.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Oh, who would play the young Bucky?  An undersized boy, with coke-bottle glasses, a larger than normal head and owl-like eyes?  That’s a great question. If Jonathan Lipnicki was still a young kid, he’d be perfect.  I loved him as George in Stuart Little. 

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?  On a small island off the coast of Maine, young Bucky Fuller discovers an infinite curiosity about the universe that changed the way many people think about this planet we call earth.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  I am still writing it.  I’m lucky to have met Gini Cunningham, an amazing storyteller and coach at a Jay O’Callahan workshop.  Gini keeps me following the thread of what’s alive in the Bucky story.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I really admire Thomas Locker’s book about John Muir,  John Muir: America’s Naturalist (Fulcrum Publishing, 2003).  It’s beautifully written and illustrated and gives you a sense of how Muir’s young life helped to shape the adult he became.  Similarly, Amy Ehrlich’s story about Rachel Carson, Rachel:  The Story of Rachel Carson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2008), is another inspiring picture book biography.

 Who or what inspired you to write this book?  As I said early, Bucky was a near-sighted, under-sized kid with bottle thick glasses.  He got into trouble a lot, in part because he literally saw the world differently.   His father died when he was 12; he was kicked out of Harvard, twice. Yet from a very early age, he was a keen observer of nature who dared to ask unpopular questions if what he was being told didn’t match his own experience.  He would invent ideas, mostly inspired by his observations of nature, that have been used for decades.  I admire how he picked himself up and found his way in the world.  I want kids to have a champion.  Just like Bucky, you have something special in you too!

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?  Back in the late 1960’s, Bucky helped spark the current environmental movement with his book, “Operating Manuel for Spaceship Earth.”  He reminded us that we are all passengers on this spaceship we call “Earth”. How will we take care of it?  He also coined the term “synergy”.

What else are you working on?   Well, I have another children’s book called When the Wind Blows.  It is being illustrated by the amazing Jana Christy and will be published by Putnam in early 2014.  It’s a very sweet, rhyming picture book that follows a brother and sister on a windy day.

Now, it’s my honor to tag and introduce you to two other writers with BIG THINGS in the works Jacqueline Davies and Corey Rosen Schwartz.  

Jacqueline Davies:   I first met Jackie at her Rising River writing retreats and I was hooked.  She is as good a writing coach as she is a writer.  Jackie has been writing stories for children for over a decade. Her first book, Where the Ground Meets the Sky, was published in 2002. Four more books quickly followed: The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (2004), The Night Is Singing (2006), The House Takes a Vacation (2007), and The Lemonade War (2007), which became available in paperback in 2009. Also in 2009, two more books were published: Tricking the Tallyman and Lost. Her newest book is the sequel to The Lemonade War.  Check out her third book in the series The Lemonade Crime.  My kids loved the whole series!

Corey Rosen Schwartz:  I met Corey through an on-line auction to raise funds for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  Little ones who like a lot of action, will love her fractured fairy tale, Three Ninja Pigs.  Corey just lets loose with her rhyme and you can tell she loves what she does!  If you like to rhyme or want to learn, her blog The Meter Maids, with Tiffany Strelitz Haber, is wonderful.


 

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