Lesson 3 – Becoming a Systems Thinker

Description: This is the third (and final) lesson of the Systems Are Everywhere Module. In this lesson, students will apply their knowledge and skills from Lessons 1 & 2 to their own lives, while further building awareness of STEM careers and pathways.


COURSE: Any science / STEM course that uses systems. Examples of courses where this has been used are: Physical Science, Life Science, Biological Science, Environment Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Oceanography, Engineering, Economics, Mathematics, General Elementary Education.

UNIT: Units that include applications of cycles, feedback loops, circuits, processes, equilibrium, homeostasis, or response for any STEM content. Additionally, units that focus on building 21st-century skills, “soft skills”, problem-solving, design thinking, systems thinking, career connections, career awareness, and career development skills. Systems models have dimensionality that can be used to represent math variables in a visual way, therefore the activities in this lesson can be integrated into courses requiring math and mathematical thinking.

OBJECTIVES: See the Standards Addressed page for information about the published standards and process we use when aligning lessons with NGSS and other Science, Math, Literacy and 21st Century skills). In addition to the aligned objectives listed in buttons on the upper-left of this page and in the table below, for this lesson, here is a breakdown of:

What Students Learn:
  • A system is a collection of interconnected and interdependent parts.
  • Systems can be found in all aspects of life and can be simple or complex.
  • Modeling systems provides insight into the relationships and contributions of each part of a system, and the flow of information through the system.
  • Creating a model is an iterative process that benefits from peer feedback.
  • Systems thinking is applicable to many different disciplines.
  • Systems thinking skills are desirable skills to highlight in job, college, and scholarship applications.


What Students Do:
  • Students apply their knowledge and skills by creating a model in Loopy of a system of their choosing.
  • Students evaluate the pathway requirements for a STEM career.
  • Students produce a profile to showcase their systems thinking skills development.
  • Students create a resume that includes activities where they have used or developed systems thinking skills.


Aligned Next Generation Science Standards
All three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards are addressed in this lesson. Please note that based on what part of this lesson you emphasize with students, you will cover different NGSS to different levels. Based on what is possible, we have listed here and in the buttons on the left the NGSS that are make the most sense to integrate and emphasize with this content.

Performance expectation: *HS-ETS1-1 Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants. (*Can meet this performance expectation, depending on course content and chosen phenomenon for the systems model.) 

The bundle of performance expectations above focuses on the following elements from the K-12 Science Education Framework:

Highlighted Science and Engineering Practice(s)

Highlighted Disciplinary Core Idea(s)

Highlighted Crosscutting Concept(s)

SEP-1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

SEP-2: Developing and Using Models*

SEP-8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

*Depending on chosen career focus, Core Ideas and Performance expectations may be integral to a student’s systems model.

Influence of Engineering, Technology and Science on society and the natural world

CCC-4: Systems and System Models

CCC-7: Stability and Change

Systems Thinking Skills: Systems thinking developed through this lesson trains students to apply these skills to defining problems, building and testing models with application to all science core subjects. The skills include: Exploring boundaries; Appreciating multiple perspectives; Understanding relationships; Thinking in terms of systems themselves.

Common Core: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively using models. SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest. (HS-LS1-2) HSN.Q.A.2 Define appropriate quantities for the purpose of descriptive modeling.

21st Century skills and CTE: 1.A Think Creatively; 1.B Work Creatively with Others; 2.A Reason Effectively; 2.B Use Systems Thinking; 2.C Make Judgments and Decisions; 3.A Communicate Clearly; 3.B Collaborate with Others; 4.A Access and Evaluate Information; 4.B Use and Manage Information; 5.B Create Media Products; 6.A  Apply Technology Effectively;  7.A Adapt to Change; 7.B Be Flexible; 8.B Work Independently; 8.C Be Self-Directed Learners; 9.A Interact Effectively with Others;  10.A Manage Products; 10.B Produce Results; 12.E Environmental Literacy* (*Meets criteria within the scope of lesson 1, 2 and 3 depending on the focus of the chosen systems model).


Pacing Guide:  2 – 4, 50-minute class periods


Lesson 3 provides students with the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills from Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 by creating a model of a system of their choosing (Activity 3.1). Through this process, students also learn how to engage in a peer-review process to improve on their model. Students then explore more of the Systems Thinkers in STEM videos and profiles to build further awareness of STEM careers and pathways, application of systems thinking skills, and identify with STEM professionals (Activity 3.2). Finally, students showcase their systems thinking skills development by integrating their skills into a resume or cover letter (Activity 3.3) and / or by creating a “I Have Become a Systems Thinker” profile (Activity 3.4). Systems Thinking skills are relevant and desired skills across all career fields. Therefore adding these skills to job, college, or scholarship applications will serve to enhance their employability / acceptance.



It is recommended that students complete Lesson 1 & Lesson 2 of the Systems Are Everywhere module prior to beginning Lesson 3.



Teacher & student internet access & online conferencing tools…
  • While this lesson can be delivered in-person, it was developed intentionally to be delivered as a remote learning experience. Therefore if leading remotely, students and educators should have access to and familiarity with using video conferencing tools (Zoom, teams, Google Meet, etc.) including using chat, sharing screens, and breakout rooms. We also suggest using online collaborative tools (Google Docs, Google Slides, OneNote, Jamboard, etc.) to share ideas and brainstorm. These may require you to request access from your IT specialist or administrator. We have only suggested tools that are free and have been accessed by other schools and districts.
Safety Protocols…
  • The lesson includes use of breakout rooms for small group collaboration. Follow your district’s policies for using and managing breakout rooms with students.
  • The lesson includes students sharing their screen to share their models and presentations with the class. If screen sharing is not allowed, students can share a link to their model or presentations with you and you can share for them.
Media and video clips…
Printouts or digital copy…


The following instructions outline steps for leading each activity as well as suggested speaker notes (in italics) and background information.

Activity 3.1: Modeling your own system (50 minutes)

In this activity, students will use a Think, Pair, Share structure to apply their knowledge and skills from Lessons 1 & 2 by modeling a system of their choosing.

THINK – Students should work on their own or in pairs to brainstorm and develop a systems model of their choosing. Provide each group with a copy of the Modeling a System student worksheet to guide their brainstorming. They should complete A-D of the worksheet (leave Section B, Version 2 for after the paired feedback). Models can be hand-drawn on a separate piece of paper or be completed in Loopy.

Examples of systems students could model are: a bad/good day, a social movement, the dynamics of a disease outbreak, the complexities of a project they have been working on, the character dynamics from a book they are reading, etc. They can explore our Computational Modeling modules for additional ideas. Additionally, we have put together this document with links to models created by students, educators, and scientists. Systems are everywhere, so they should have fun, be creative, and not be limited to these examples. We are always looking to add to this list. If your students have developed unique models that would be of benefit to others, especially models in areas not captured here, please submit your models to us using this form.

Note: If students use Loopy to create their model, they may struggle to define if an edge is positive or negative. If this creates a barrier give them the freedom to represent the relationship using relative values or to ignore that feature. Loopy requires one or the other to be selected, there is no neutral edge, so they can just choose either all positive or all negative edges for their entire model. They can add a text box in Loopy to highlight that.

Some students ask how they make the impact of one node greater than the other. Unfortunately, Loopy does not allow you to add this feature. One workaround is to have students add multiple edges between the same two nodes. In this way, Loopy can be used to represent quantitative measures.

PAIR – To demonstrate the iterative process of creating an effective model, groups should gather and give peer feedback. Prior to the peer reviews, provide students with the Guide for Students: Peer Reviewing a Model and discuss as a class the guidelines and recommendations. At the end of the paired feedback students should refine their models and complete the remainder of the Modeling a System student worksheet (Section B, Version 2; Sections E-G).

Note: The peer-review process should be done in two parts so each group is able to see and learn from two other models.

  • Part 1 – pair groups. In each pair only 1 group gives feedback.
  • Part 2 – mix up the pairs so each group is with a different group than in Part 1. Those groups that gave feedback in Part 1 will now receive feedback.
  • Here is an example of the two parts:
Part 1 Part 2
Give Feedback Receive Feedback Give Feedback Receive Feedback
Pair A Group 1 Group 2 Pair A Group 4 Group 1
Pair B Group 3 Group 4 Pair B Group 2 Group 3


SHARE – Each group should present their final model to the class. They should explain the edges and nodes, flow of information, and how they anticipate the system changing over time.

Note: To submit their final model with an explanation, students can create a video of their model playing with audio of them explaining the edges, nodes, and dynamics of the system. One tool that many schools have used to do this is Flipgrid.


Activity 3.2: Exploring jobs and careers that use systems thinking (50 minutes)

In this activity, students will explore jobs and careers that use systems thinking and explore ways they can prepare for those jobs and careers.

Provide each student with the Becoming a Systems Thinker student worksheet. This worksheet has 2 pages. For this activity, students will work in pairs to complete questions A – H (questions I – L are for Activity 3.3. You can choose to have students do Activities 3.3 & 3.4 or just choose one. If you choose not to do Activity 3.3 then you do not need to provide students with page 2 of this document). Student pairs will watch or read at least one of the Systems Thinkers in STEM videos or 1-page profiles then answer questions A-H. They should choose a video or profile that was not included in previous lessons (i.e. Ray Williams and Yes Farm or Dr. Nyasha Chambwe). Point students to the “Search Profiles” spreadsheet to help them identify a video or profile that aligns with a degree field of interest. The WA STEM Labor Market tool is useful for students to explore degree fields and requirements.

After completing questions A – H of the worksheet, students should prepare a short presentation or video that promotes how systems thinking skills are used in jobs and careers. Their target audience should be other students / peers.

The presentation or video should include the following:

  • The name of the job or career
  • The types of problems this job or career addresses
  • The systems thinking skills needed to address these problems
  • The education and work experience needed for this job or career
  • Steps a student can take to prepare for this career including how to develop their systems thinking skills


Activity 3.3: Integrating systems thinking skills into a professional application (50 minutes)

In this activity, students will integrate their systems thinking skills into a resume, cover letter or application. You can choose to have students complete this activity and Activity 3.4, or you can choose just one of the activities depending on the needs and interests of your students.

Students will work on their own to complete questions I – L on page 2 of the Becoming a Systems Thinker student worksheet. Students will want to refer to their Systems Thinking Skills Progress Heat Map from Lesson 2 to help. The activity concludes with students integrating their systems thinking skills into a resume, cover letter, or application.


Activity 3.4: Creating your own systems thinker profile (50 minutes)

In this activity, students will create their own 1-page “I Have Become A Systems Thinker” profile, similar to the profiles featured on our Systems Thinkers in STEM website. You can choose to have students complete this activity and Activity 3.3, or you can choose just one of those activities depending on the needs and interests of your students.

Provide each student with an electronic copy of the Student Profile Template.

Slide 1: review the instructions with the students

Slide 2: demonstrate to students how to complete the template. Students will need to refer to their Systems Thinking Skills Progress Heat Map from Lesson 2 complete their profile. Have students turn in a draft to you for review. They should review and incorporate your feedback into a final version. Students should present their profiles to the class. If you are in person, we recommend showcasing the student profiles in the classroom or school.

Post-Assessment (10 minutes)

After completing the Systems Are Everywhere module (Lessons 1-3) have students complete the Unit Assessment again. This can be done on paper or questions can be added to an online form, such as Google Forms. Allow 5-10 minutes for students to complete the assessment. Comparison of the Pre and Post-Unit Assessments can provide you with evidence of student learning and engagement with the unit. The Pre and Post Unit Assessments can also be shared with students as a means for them to reflect on their learning.

Career Connection

The Systems Thinkers In STEM resources provide an accessible way for students to explore diverse STEM careers and pathways. If time and resources allow, we recommend expanding these career connections through in-person / video conversations with a STEM professional and / or an in-person or virtual tour of a STEM workplace. To optimize these experiences we recommend the following:

Prior to the experience

  • Have students generate questions to ask about the specific projects the professional is working on and their career path
  • Help the professional connect to the science in your classroom & to things your students care about by providing them with insight on the topics students are currently studying

During the experience

  • Prompt students to ask the questions you know they are interested in. Often students can feel intimidated to ask questions and need some prompts to get them talking.

After the experience

  • Follow-up with speakers with feedback/reflection from students. This provides an important opportunity for students to reflect on the impact of their experience, and it is a nice way to show gratitude to the professional for sharing their time.



How will I know they know?

There are formative assessment opportunities throughout this lesson. These include the:

Another way to formatively assess student learning in these lessons is by using your choice of exit ticket format. Suggested questions:

  • What did you learn today that surprised you?
  • What are you excited to learn more about?
  • What questions do you have at this point?

At the end of all activities and/or formative assessments, summatively assess student learning in these lessons with this Unit Assessment.



ELL students may benefit from a vocabulary list and peer notes that correspond with the module. Also, the videos can be viewed with closed captioning via YouTube.