Graphical Tools for Conceptualizing Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education

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Journal of Chemical Education

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One challenge associated with introducing systems thinking in chemistry classrooms is the increase in content complexity that students face when they engage in this type of approach. Placing core chemical ideas within larger systems has promise, as long as students are not overwhelmed by the added complexity. Although there are many potential strategies for dealing with complexity, one common tool is to employ visual or graphical tools to help conceptualize the problem or system at hand. In part because systems thinking touches on many potential levels of implementation, there are different visual tools that are helpful in conceptualizing different aspects. Some tools, such as systems-oriented concept map extension (SOCME) diagrams and systemigrams, use methodologies often associated with concept mapping but add features that enhance their applicability in systems thinking. Object–Process Methodology (OPM), which has seen fairly wide use in systems engineering contexts, uses formally defined components and links between them to help conceptualize systems and problems. Many systems of interest are dynamic in nature so tools such as behavior over time graphs (BOTG) are helpful in calibrating the temporal aspects of systems. Such dynamics are also captured via causal loop diagrams and stock and flow diagrams. Here, we introduce and describe the affordances of multiple types of graphical tools that can be used to support systems thinking approaches in chemistry education. Knowing the uses and advantages of these different tools will allow instructors to make informed choices about the tools that will best meet a particular educational goal when using systems thinking approaches in the classroom.


Curriculum; Learning theories; Systems thinking


Curriculum and Instruction | Science and Mathematics Education



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