Systems Thinking in Water Education | eePRO @ NAAEE

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Systems Thinking in Water Education

This is a really interesting topic – I have been wondering lately how much systems thinking is used and discussed throughout the US, after first learning about it when I moved to Silicon Valley. I think water and climate change are two of the most relevant examples of complex environmental systems that should be approached as such when designing solutions, even if those solutions are intended to focus only on one component of the system.

When I first read the blog post, I wondered if ThinkWater's efforts generally focus on applying systems thinking to understanding the physical water system (such as the water cycle), or if the focus is also on water as it relates to human behaviors and communities. I think the second category is especially important because it provides a way for lessons to be adapted to students’ everyday experiences and local communities. This provides opportunities to learn about changing behaviors (arguably a major goal of environmental education) and to consider the effects of environmental systems on their decisions and lives.

After looking through some of the example lesson plans available through the ThinkWater website that have been redesigned with systems thinking in mind, it seems like curriculum materials tend to cover both categories. There are units about the global water system, ocean geology, and personal water consumption. After reading these, I would be curious to know more about ways teachers have taught these lessons, and whether they have adapted them to be more locally focused (through field trips, introducing content about local challenges, etc.)

Thanks for bringing this curriculum to my attention! It looks great, and, as Laurel mentions, I hadn't thought about systems thinking in a specifically EE setting.

I teach several 7th grade STEM classes where I incorporate environmental education as much as I can, but before I get really into STEM curriculum I teach, and go over, growth mindset to help them advance through the challenges of being a young adult and challenges that they will face in my STEM class. Though with your resources here with systems thinking it will add another layer to help my students be more aware of their thinking processes. I also agree that systems thinking would help prosper in the EE setting and STEM!
I do a unit on weather and climate change then move to the environmental science. I have been looking for a way to change a few things up and have a more impactful environmental science quarter. I love the lessons and resources that are available for educators on your website. Water is an important topic we need to create stewards for in our classroom. My two personal favorite lessons that I will be incorporating in my classroom are All the Water in the World and How Much Water Do You Use? It gives them a bigger picture of water on our planet and then brings it back home and measurable that they can observe.
Thank you for sharing these resources! I would love to know of how other people applied systems thinking to EE and how it turned out!

This is such a valuable and wonderful topic! Several months ago I had the opportunity to write my honors thesis on water education. For the thesis, a partner and I created a curriculum on water education, more specifically based around bottled water. It was interesting to read this article and look for similarities and differences between some of the ideas in the article and some of the components of my thesis/curriculum.

Systems thinking is a unique concept and it is one that I am familiar with. However, it wasn't something I really had in mind when designing my curriculum but looking back now I incorporated a great deal of systems thinking in my curriculum, without even knowing it. I believe incorporating systems thinking into environmental education will help students to both understand new topics but also to be inspired to make change. I believe more teachers should be made aware of what systems thinking is and how to incorporate it into their teaching.

Great to hear, Hilary. ThinkWater has a video coming out soon that captures how some educators in Wisconsin are using systems thinking in water education and outreach, and we're hosting a Symposium in March which will be available to attend online to see more application. Systems thinking is also included in the draft Wisconsin environmental and sustainability education standards.