Be sure to take a look at OneThing39 and the wonderful summer conferences coming your way. Or, click to the right here on the countdown clock or the Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling icon.
Teaching young people to construct new models of their world
We live in a time when our problems defy ready answers. In fact, they defy even thoughtful answers. And I am thinking this is so because we’re generally thinking about things the way we always have . . . with a linear, static model. Our schools are doing a poor job of preparing the next generation of problem solvers.
We’ve not taken to heart Albert Einstein’s dictum: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Longtime systems advocate Barry Richmond coined a term that describes the kind of person and thinking that we need – Systems Citizen.
Schools have to change in a big way for such hopes to be realized. And it will take some courageous leadership to move communities who are under the weight of shrinking tax support and swelling results-oriented accountability. It can be done.
Constructivism - the prime tenent of educational psychology for over a century, but largely ignored in the factory-model of education – compels teachers to provide tasks whereby our students must grapple with problems and, in solving them, generate new understanding. Students, in fact, construct their new understanding through their own efforts.
Students really want to do this!
And teachers would really like doing this for them!
Enter Barry Richmond’s vision of a cadre of systems teachers leading young people to build and test their mental models. In Tracing Connections, a group of educators honor Barry’s work by laying out a blueprint for how to do this very thing – teach the next generation about systems and, thereby, foster insight and hope for change.
It will be hard, uphill work. But it needs to be done.
- Rio+20: Biggest ever UN summit ends with faint glimmer of hope (telegraph.co.uk)
From Sightline – the bloggers and researchers of sustainability in the Pacific Northwest – comes this new item in their continuing series on fewer drivers. Here, this blog speaks about three different long-term flows slowly impacting the American car craze . . . and, thereby, road construction and the car industry and gas prices and transit use . . . and who knows what else.
Hasn’t our fascination with understanding and teaching about systems been connected to the dichotomy between the world we live in (a dynamic, always-moving ) and how we represent it to students (reduced, lineal, static)?
This map gives a sense of how winds move and behave as a single thing.
Here, then, from Google is a beautiful thing. Click. Watch. Zoom in all you want.
Click on OneThing39 to read about summer conferences.
Oregonians – and Americans – are car crazy no more
Across the country, the generation coming up is driving less, owning fewer cars, and eschewing the idea of auto-mobility. Take in this graph of Oregon’s Vehicle Miles Traveled graph – it shows that present day VMT is at levels from the late 1980′s!
To be sure, some part of this results from the economic downturn starting in fall 2008. Nonetheless, this represents a dramatic turnabout in American culture.
Almost half of 18-24 year olds would choose internet access over wheels. I recall, now, a faint memory from about 20 summers ago: beautiful day, a few kids out riding bicycles, running through the streets, being kids. But there on the curb, oblivious to nature’s gift of a day and the sheer joy of play, sat two boys playing with their Gameboys.
It’s new generation!
Of course, there are a few explanations for this. Increased density in the last 20 years has made mass transit a better deal. Owning a car IS an expensive proposition. Many young couples actually own a single car. My own children did not purchase a car until well into their 20′s, and only then when they had children.
It’s taken a long time for all this feedback to take hold: rising fuel costs, increased density in urban centers, improved mass transit, more convenient and low cost housing along those mass transit throughways, and a generation whose values differ from those previous relative to social freedom.
- Driving’s Long Decline in Oregon (streetsblog.net)
- Americans’ Growing Ride of Choice: Public Transit (newser.com)
- Mass transit use rises as gas prices soar (money.cnn.com)
- Commuter Commotion: 6 Futuristic Mass Transit Concepts (weburbanist.com)
The Creative Learning Exchange (CLE) and the Sustainability Education Summer Institute (SESI) sponsor summer conferences and institutes that help us all do our jobs just a little bit better – reaching out to teachers to prepare them for teaching about systems and sustainability.
The CLE sponsors the national Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education in Wellesley, MA, June 30 – July 2. This conference features teachers and systems practitioners in a three-day Chautauqua of best practices from around the United States. This year’s focus is on the Common Core and STEM Standards, two profound threads of educational reform that have swept through school districts bringing change and new conversations. This 10th Biennial conference brings together the systems community’s preeminent voices – Peter Senge, George Richardson, and Dennis Meadows.
Over the last two decades, I have participated and presented at this conference as it has criss-crossed the United States: Arizona, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts. It’s the kind of conference where neophytes and experts gather to learn and share. There are many great things about this conference: teachers share best instructional practices in systems education, and system practitioners share their expertise with teachers. It’s akin to writing teachers attending a conference alongside the best novelists in the country.
Across the country, near the northwest tip of the Pacific Northwest, SESI 2012 gets underway on Bainbridge Island, at a sustainability enclave called Islandwood. This year’s event features three strands for sustainability educators: start up teachers wanting to learn, best practices among current teachers, and a deep learning path for experienced teachers. The first strand includes sessions in systems thinking. And Fritjof Capra’s Center for EcoLiteracy is a one of the co-sponsors.
If you to step away from modern society and our urban landscape, then come here. Islandwood will transport you into a sustainability dreamland where the rhetoric and hopes of environmentalism and sustainability are everyday practiced. You can see what’s possible. By the way, Washington state is one of the very states with requirements for sustainability education and systems thinking. I grateful for the real honor to present and participate in SESI 2009.
Get out there! Learn! Teach!
- OneThing35: National Systems Thinking Weeks, 10/5 – 10/20 (itsallonething.com)
- OneThing37: Words to live by (itsallonething.com)
- What do YOU mean by ‘Systems Thinking’? (mdite.wordpress.com)
- Peter Senge – what schools need to focus on now! (annmic.wordpress.com)
Feedback keeps coming until you learn
When I drive, feedback keeps coming at me, especially as related to speed.
But back in the halcyon days of open teen life – I can drive my VW Bug like a sports car, not wear a seat belt, and yet live without a care! – speed had to do with how quickly I got to the make-out spot, or whether I got home before mom and dad freaked out. These are not very good sources of feedback that determine behavior. Safety? Public order?
Let me tell a different story of feedback for drivers.
On the way home from church on Sunday, we drove by a recently and temporarily installed electronic speed indicator suspended from the Speed Limit sign near our house. It’s at the bottom of a hill, just before a park to the left of the sign. What a thoughtful place for that sign! In the ten minutes I stood there watching people fly by, most slowed down once their speed exceeded the posted 25 mph. It’s highly effective, but also highly localized. Most other signs are not like this.
The most immediate source of continuous feedback relative to speed for a driver is the speedometer. People consult it all the time. How can you not? In some models (my brothers Honda Civic, for example), the mph displays is two inch very bright teal numerals above the main dashboard. Because it’s a digital display, the continuous movement of lighted segments keeps one’s eyes on the number. Clever.
Still another feedback mode is sheer traffic volume. Sometimes, the Speed Limit sign is flat out mockery. Near the Clackamas Town Center, the Speed Limit is 40 mph. I was stopped in this photo (I’m a good driver, really), but I rarely get over 20 mph on this road over the weekend. Traffic feedback varies by city, by hour of day, by location within the driving grid, you name it.
There are invisible feedbacks, of course, all in my head – like the amount I pay for driver’s insurance or the cost of an accident. Of course, all the feedback works, if everything remains under current, ordinary circumstances. Should something overrun the normal – an emergency, anger, late to work, daydreaming – the feedback loop reminding me to be safe, while still there, can not compete with such a shift in dominance.
In the end, all these feedback messages return to the same interpreter – me. Inside my head, all these signals dip and dither. I weigh all of it. For a long time, my car also carried children, so the feedback about speed had still another element, causing me to act the very opposite of the childless, spouseless, witless high school Tim. I was the epitome of a careful driver.
Continuous information flow, the threat of occasional traffic fine, the quasi-official shame of public real-time speed, the vagaries of moral and ethical judgment relative to speeding . . . all of these feedback loops in my brain keep me a pretty good driver. Maybe I need them all.
Let the meaning choose the word
At a recent Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, the host asked each candidate to describe himself in a single word, and we got consistent, cheerful, to name a few. Back in 2000, Saturday Night Live played off this very idea with fake Al Gore declaring “Lock box” and fake George Bush proclaiming “Strategery.” To be sure, it’s a gimmicky kind of thing, but it can also be a good exercise in synthesis.
In his “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell famously called on writers and thinkers to practice the linguistic discipline of letting “the meaning choose the word.” We do not need to think very broadly to cite examples of sloppy or exaggerated thinking where words seem to mean anything the writer or speaker wants. I also recall Jay Forrester once proclaiming that a hallmark of system dynamics was that it made one’s thinking plain.
It’s what caused me to ask recently what are the ten most important systems words a middle or high school student should know. So, over the last few weeks, I’ve read dozens of words people ascribe to Systems Thinking; and, while I disagree or am confounded by some of those words, I’ll leave it to others to check either the K-12 List Serve or Systems Thinking World to make their own judgments.
- balancing feedback loop
- bounded rationality
- dynamic equilibrium
- feedback loop
- limiting factor
- linear relationship
- nonlinear relationship
- reinforcing feedback loop
- shifting dominance
Eighteen words and phrases. Learn them. Teach them. And, in a few generations, we’ll all live a different world.
- Orwell’s Six Rules of Clear English (aplusedits.com)
- OneThing35: National Systems Thinking Weeks, 10/5 – 10/20 (itsallonething.com)
- OneThing36: knowing “throughput” fundamentally changes how you see (itsallonething.com)