Introduction to Systems

Unit Plan


To foster an understanding of systems, students first work with a familiar example – a cell phone network. Students manually build a schematic of a cell phone network within the class and learn how the complexity of networks makes their analysis very difficult to perform by hand. Students then use a computer program (Cytoscape) developed by leading scientists in the field of Biological networks to perform sophisticated analyses of their cell phone network. By using this software, students study the network in ways very analogous to how real scientists study networks in Biology.

Please note – this Intro to Systems module, as it is currently written, works best when in-person with students. If you need a comparable module for remote/online learning, please use our Systems are Everywhere module.



What Students Learn

  • A network is a system of interconnected parts. These parts may be organisms, genes, molecules, etc…
  • Nodes are the parts of a network, and edges are the relationships between those parts of the network
  • A network shows the flow of something through a system, including information (cell phone network), energy (food web), etc…
  • Scientists use computer programs to analyze networks because networks are often very complex.

What Students Do

  • Students create and analyze a cell phone network.
  • Students use the computer program Cytoscape to analyze the cell phone network.
  • Students use a computer program (Cytoscape) track flow of information through a network
  • Students use a computer program (Cytoscape) to interpret the impact of removing nodes on a network


Pacing Guide:

This unit consists of 2 lessons designed for 50-minute periods (except where indicated).

Lesson 1- Cell phone network introduction (2 periods)
Lesson 2- Cytoscape cell phone network


Unit Assessment:

The post-assessment (Word Doc | Google Doc) should be given to students after they have completed Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 of this module in addition to the Ecological Networks module.

For the answer key, please contact us.



Advanced preparation: Lesson 1 (Word Doc | Google Doc), Lesson 2 (Word Doc | Google Doc)
Teacher Halo Kit Evaluation (Word Doc | Google Doc)


Except where otherwise noted, the Introduction to Systems module, copyright Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) through Baliga Systems Education Experiences, is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  All logos, trademarks, and videos are property of their respective owners. This resource may contain links to websites operated by third parties. These links are provided for your convenience only and do not constitute or imply any endorsement or monitoring by ISB or ISB’s funding agencies. Please confirm the license status of any third-party resources and understand their terms of use before reusing them.