GENERAL COMMENTS: This was probably one of the best classes I've ever had! :)
Talk to the kids about system thinking and ask them questions along the way.
Talk to the kids about system thinking and ask them questions along the way.
Ask if anybody knows what a system is, if yes, ask them to explain to everybody else.
Nobody knew what a system was (except somebody who said that a system means electricity – which is an example, but not the definition of a system), so I just went on to the examples, so that they will learn along the way.
Suppose we have all the pieces to a car – the motor, the doors, the windows, the seats, the wheels – everything. If you throw these things in a heap, they won’t get up and drive. For this to become a system (the car) we need to connect these things to each other. When you have a real, built car, the different parts pass data to each other and regulate everything with sensors.
When one thing changes, the other parts know that and change as well in their own way. The parts are interconnected. That’s the difference between a heap of parts and a working system.
The kids are listening carefully. I asked them whether a heap of parts from a car is a car. Half said yes, half said no. I asked a student who said “yes” why they thought so, and same with a student who said “no”. This was what a student who said “yes” said: “A heap of all the parts from a car is a car because all the pieces are already there and you wouldn’t need to add anything more to make it a car. All you would have to do is put the parts together, and that’s easy”. A child who said “no” said: “A heap of all the parts from a car is not a car because they are not working together and that’s what’s needed for the car to work”. That’s precisely the answer I was looking for. Working together, interconnected, and causing each other to do things, are major elements of a system. For some reason they thought it was very funny that a pile of parts from a car could get up and drive.
If a human’s body is ripped into pieces (legs, feet, hands, arms, head), will that be human? No, it will just be the pieces that a human body is made out of. For this to be a system, the parts have to connect and work together as a whole.
To check their understanding, I asked “who can now explain to everybody what a system is?” Nobody answered. I just told you what a system was, all I’m asking you to do is repeat what I told you! “We forgot.” Forgot… I explained again, and then each of the kids in turn, explained what a system was in their own words. As you can see, it’s important to ask the kids to explain what they just learned because otherwise, (like in this case), we could’ve moved on through the lesson and I would never have known that they didn’t understand what a system was (and that’s mainly what this lesson is about).
What else is a system?
Nobody could think of anything, so I gave some examples (by asking them some questions).
Before giving an example, I asked the kids a question – “do you think a friendship is a system” There was a loud chorus of “No!!” Well then. Let me explain;
A friendship is a system – if you help your friend and play with them, will your friend react in any way? (Wait for the kids to respond). They will want to be nice to you too and play with you more, right? If you are mean to your friend and don’t share, what will they do? (Again, let the kids answer!) They will probably go away from you and not want to play with you again. You and your friend are connected – your actions influence your friend’s actions, and your friend’s actions influence your actions. Your behavior changes depending on what your friend does and how they act. If 1) you and your friend are connected 2) how your friend acts changes your behavior in some way 3) you’re doing something together, is a friendship a system?
Ohh…. Now we get it. “Yess! A friendship is a system! How could we not understand earlier”
· A family is a system – when a child behaves badly, what do the parents do? The parents get angry, right? – The family members’ behaviors are connected and change when others’ behaviors change. If a child behaves well, the parents are happy, and might praise the child. This is also a system.
D.: “That makes sense. If I don’t behave well, my parents get angry also”
Also, there is a loop here: The child behaves badly, the parents get angry, the child starts to cry and behave worse, the parents yell more, the child behaves even worse, the parents yell even more, until… the child smiles and starts to behave. Then it starts to go the other way – the parents smile, the child calms down, the parents calm down, and everything settles back down. This isn’t a very balanced system because to stop the family from getting into a worse and worse mood, something opposite has to happen (the child starts to behave better) for the loop to start going the other way.
“Interesting... so a lot of things are systems – that’s cool!”
Let’s play a game (‘Yay! A game!)– all of you (kids) come and stand in a circle, holding hands. When I do something, you do the same (slightly raise a hand), the next person does the same, then the next, the next, etc, until it comes back to me and again I slightly raise a hand (because that’s what the previous person did), and everyone in the circle continues to slightly raise their hands until their hands are so high that we can’t go any higher and the system breaks. Do the same thing with a negative feedback loop – slightly lower hands until everyone’s on the ground, and again, the system breaks.
They had a lot of fun with this, especially with breaking the system at the end and pretending to die – ok. This system is obviously not balancing.
Here are some more examples of systems:
Imagine a forest with only wolves and bunnies. When there become less bunnies, there become (ask - more or less?) wolves. When there become more bunnies, there become more wolves (why?). But when there are more wolves, there become less bunnies, and there become less wolves. So this is a balancing system.
We discussed this for a while, and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. “When there are less bunnies, there are… more wolves because they want to eat” “No! When there are less bunnies there are less wolves because there is less to eat” – correct. Katya, if we didn’t feed you for a day, would you grow more or less? “Less…oh” So now we agree that when there are less bunnies there are less wolves.
Me: “But when there are less wolves are there less or more bunnies?”
Kids “The same amount!”
Me: “When there is less wolves eating the bunnies, do there become more or less bunnies?”
Kids “Less bunnies because there is nobody eating them.”
Me: “What? So when there aren’t any wolves hunting you, you die? Why?”
Kids: “OOPS! We meant to say more bunnies”
Me: “But when there become more bunnies, do there become less or more wolves?”
Kids: “Less because there is nothing to eat”
Me : “But when there are less wolves there are more bunnies, right? So there become more wolves again… or no?”
Kids: “Yes because there are more bunnies to eat and when there is more to eat, the wolves can lay more eggs in their nest!”
The parents were sitting on the couch and laughing so hard… J
Kids : “What’s wrong?”
Anyways, it was a very interesting discussion.
Can you think of any systems in your body?
Kids “Our heart! It beats and regulates. It doesn’t just suddenly beat really fast or really slow. It’s making sure that it’s at the right speed. Except when we run. For some reason, when we run, our heart beats very fast. Also our heart is a system because it makes us have blood…”
Me: “That’s one example. Let me give you a few more;”
When you breathe in, you don’t just continue breathing in until you burst, right? Your body regulates that you take in the same amount of air as you breathe out.
“We never thought of that…” So is that a system? “Yes.”
When it’s hot outside, your body temperature doesn’t just keep increasing and increasing until you boil, right? Your body regulates your body temperature- when it’s cold outside, and your temperature starts to drop, your body warms you up and raises your temperature. When it’s hot outside, your body cools you down. This is another example of a balancing and self-regulating system.
When it’s 0 degrees outside (C°), do you freeze into an icicle? When it’s hot outside, do you melt like a sugar cube? “Oh… so our body keeps us cold, or warm…Yay!” “So that’s a system too… there is a system inside my own body… wow!”
In systems, there are many different processes that regulate and balance the systems.
Let’s play the same game as we just played except that every person has to do the opposite of what the person before them just did (I start with slightly raising my hand, the next person does the opposite- lowers their hand, the next person raises, and the system stays balanced).
They loved the fact that everybody kept raising and lowering their hands and the system still didn’t break and continued to stay balanced.
Cause and effect are important elements of a system. When one thing happens, the other parts of the system change depending on what just happened.
For example, where are the causes and effects here;
· The boy laughed because his friend told him a funny story
· The teacher was tired of the students because they were behaving badly
· The girl tripped because her shoe lace was untied, and she got hurt.
One of the girls gave a lecture to the girl who tripped because her shoelace was untied. J
Now that you know what a system is, can you think of any more?
· Take a break for systems and do a fun activity;
Take a huge loop of yarn (the size of half a room) and ask the kids to hold it at any place (make sure that there is nothing else in the room or at least a lot of space!) Then tell them to close their eyes and that if they peeks, the game will not work and they will have to sit out. Then, tell them that with their eyes closed, they have to make a square with the yarn (they are allowed to communicate with each other). Try it multiple times and see what happens!
· We only had a couple of minutes to play, but it came out very funny with everybody tangled. Almost all of them were cheating (their eyes were open) and they still couldn't make a square (or even get untangled). :)
Continue playing with the Handcuff Puzzle for 5-10 minutes and then show the kids the solution. If there is still time left, play Othello.