Primary pupils’ thoughts about systems. An exploratory study

Marja-Ilona Koski
Science Education and Communication (SEC), Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands

Marc de Vries
Science Education and Communication (SEC), Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands

Ladda ner artikel

Ingår i: PATT 26 Conference; Technology Education in the 21st Century; Stockholm; Sweden; 26-30 June; 2012

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 73:30, s. 253-261

Visa mer +

Publicerad: 2012-06-18

ISBN: 978-91-7519-849-1

ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


This paper presents a study into systems thinking among 27 primary school pupils; 8-to10-yearolds; and their teacher. The study includes; pre-test to the teacher and a group of pupils; lesson planning; the actual lesson and post-test to the pupils. The focus is on three concepts: do the pupils see a system as a structure consisting from main- and subparts; what are the inputs and output that they reason to be important for a system; and can they put boundaries to a system. Analysis revealed that the pupils showed some indications of machines consisting from parts with different functions; or that a sequence of steps is needed to complete a process. Systems; however; are mainly described in terms of what the user can experience; instead of what the machine itself does. The concept of input was more obvious to the pupils than the output. The impression of what a systems does; and what a user does; seemed to overlap; and this made setting the boundaries to a system more demanding. Nevertheless; by including basic principles of systems thinking; the teacher was able to introduce alternatives to approach the problems. Even though; the systems thinking was rather limited in larger sense; the pupils were able to reach beyond fair descriptions; and they used new practices to explain and label artefacts.


Primary pupils; systems thinking; qualitative study; main- and subparts; input and output; system boundaries


Arndt; H. (2006). Enhancing Systems Thinking in Education Using Systems Dynamics. Simulation; 82(11); 795-806.

Assaraf; O. B-Z.; & Orion; N. (2005). Development of system thinking skills in the context of earth science system education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 42(5); 518-560.

Barak; M.; & Williams; P. (2007). Learning elemental structures and dynamic processes in technological systems: a cognitive framework. International Journal of Technology and Design Education; 17; 323-340.

Bauer; J. M.; & Herder; M. P. (2009). Designing Socio-Technical Systems. In A. Meijers (Ed); Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences (pp.601-630). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Bertalanffy; L. von. (1979).General System Theory. New York: George Braziller.

Boersma; K.; Waarlo; A. J.; & Klaassen; K. (2011). The feasibility of systems thinking in biology education. Journal of Biological Education; 45(4); 190-197.

Booth Sweeney; L (2011). Thinking about Systems. http://lindaboothsweeney.net/ (last accessed in 29.9.2011)

Booth Sweeney; L.; & Sterman; J. D. (2007). Thinking about systems: student and teacher conceptions of natural and social systems. System Dynamics Review; 23(2/3); 285-312.

Ginns; I. S.; Norton; S.; J.; & McRobbie; C. J. (2005). Adding Value to the Teaching and Learning of Design and Technology. International Journal of Technology and Design Education; 15; 47-60.

Kali; Y.; Orion; N.; & Eylon; B-S. (2003). Effect of knowledge integration activities on students’ perception of the earth’s crust as a cyclic system. Journal of Research in Science Teaching; 40(6); 545-565.

O’Connor; J.; & McDermott; I. (1997). The Art of Systems Thinking – Essential skills for creativity and problem solving. London: Thorsons.

Ossimitz; G. (1997). Development of Systems Thinking Skills Using System Dynamics Modeling Tools. http://wwwu.uni-klu.ac.at/gossimit/sdyn/gdm_eng.htm (last accessed in 29.9.2011)

Richmond; B. (1993). Systems thinking: Critical thinking skills for the 1990s and beyond. System Dynamics Review; 9(2); 113-133.

Sterman; J. D. (2002). All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist. System Dynamics Review; 18(4); 501-531.

Svensson; M.; Zetterqvist; A.; & Ingerman; Å. (2012). On Young People’s Experience of Systems in Technology. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal; 17(1); 66-77.

Tiberghien; A. (1997). Learning and Teaching: Differentiation and Relation. Research in Science Education; 27(3); 359-382.

Vries; M. J. de. (2005). Teaching about Technology. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Technology for Non-philosophers. Dordrecht: Springer.

Citeringar i Crossref