Talking About Systems: looking for systems in the news (and not)
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Posts Tagged ‘systems thinking’

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 

 

 

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.

 

 

Using Systems Thinking to Talk with Teens about Texting

 

The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.

                      — Albert Einstein

 

 

Last week-end, the parent network in our town was buzzing.  A teen in a neighboring town had invited friends over for a party while her parents were away.  Before the teen knew it, 10 friends had turned into 90. The party got out of control.  Crystal glasses were broken.  Drawers were ransacked.  Guests vomited throughout the house.  The police were called.

In the end, 22 teens were arrested.

As the parent talk led to how could this happen and who was to blame, my mind turned to another question:  What can we learn from this?  As a systems educator, I heard a familiar pattern:  small numbers escalating in unexpected and explosive ways, like invasive species, fads and epidemics.  In the story of the party, one invitation turned into two texts turned into four forwarded messages turning into eight new “friends” and so on.  Sounds like exponential growth.

Most of us learn about exponential growth in a math class, somewhere between the ages of 14 and 16.  We learn that exponential growth means doubling, like this: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. We learn that it’s important to know if you want your bank account to grow or if you want to understand population dynamics.

And we forget it.

So I grab a chess board, a big bag of Cheerio’s (jelly beans would be better) and my two boys.

Playing with Cheerios and exponential growth

We read the letter-to the-editor (page 2) written by the mother of the girl who threw the party.

And we talk about the numbers. How was it that one or two invitations could lead to 80 uninvited party guests?

To make it real, I put one Cheerio on the chessboard and say: “Pretend these are jelly beans.  You win a bet and as your prize I have to pay you one jelly bean on the first day. For the next 63 days, I give you double the jelly beans I gave you the day.  Sounds like a good deal?  There’s only one requirement:  you have to agree to eat the jelly beans you get each day.  Deal?”

My younger son rolls his eyes.  Like, who wouldn’t accept that deal?  He accepts my deal and then we walk through it:

“On the first day, you get one jelly bean, the second day you get two and on the third day you get four.  So far so good.”  Now he takes over.   “On the fourth day I get eight jelly beans and on the fifth I get 16 and then I get 32!”

Things are looking good. The squares are too small and the Cheerios are too big so we pull out a piece of paper and calculate that on the 10th day though, he has 512 jelly beans to eat.  He’s still not phased.  Double that number on the 11th day. That would be 1,024 jelly beans.

His eyes start to widen.  By the 20th day, the number is over 500,000 jelly beans.  On the last day, the 64th day, he would have 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 jelly beans.  He starts to look queasy.  I’d DIE if I had to eat all of those jelly beans!

We draw a graph like this:

We talk about how sneaky doubling can be. And how once it gets going, in the case of the party, it can be unstoppable.  “So”, I ask, trying to mask the hope in my voice:  ”if you understand how texting can double, could that help you avoid trouble down the road?”

Here are a few of their answers:

 Well, now I wouldn’t forward the text.

If I don’t know who the text came from in the first place, then it could already be blowing up out of control.

Of course, we also talked about not going to a party if the parents aren’t home.

My sons are 13 and 11.  Will they remember this conversation when the party invitations come in as they get older?  I can only hope so.   Check back with me in five years and I’ll let you know.

 

Here are some resources for teaching kids about exponential growth:

Stories: 

Stories are a great way to learn about anything, even exponential growth.  Here’s a system-based review I wrote about  One Grain of Rice by Demi (good for young and old) for the Waters Foundation.

For a similar story, try “Sissa and the Troublesome Trifles.  See I. G. Edmonds, Trickster Tales (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott Co.,1966) pp. 5-13.

Games: 

See the Paper Fold game in the Systems Thinking Playbook.  If you don’t have it, email me (www.linaboothsweeney.net) and I’ll send you the exercise.

Movies/YouTube:  

This youtube clip by Dr. Albert Bartlett of U Colorado is worth every minute, more for teens and adults.

There are also some wonderfully clear examples of exponential growth on the Khan Academy site that explore compound interest and bacteria.

Websites/Blogs: 

Search “exponential growth” on the Waters Foundation and Creative Learning Exchange websites.  Lots of great curriulum ideas.

Really good explanations, visuals and video clips on these two blogs:

Zimblog:  Understanding Exponential Growth

Growth Busters:  check out the documentary film and the blog

 
Look for Part II of this blog in the coming weeks:   Why do most of us profoundly underestimate the effects of exponential growth?