Students should begin using the systems and system models crosscutting concept in K–2. According to the Next Generation Science Standards Appendix G, K–2 students should use the idea that “systems in the natural and designed world have parts that work together.” In 3–5, studentsʻ use of the idea gets more nuanced and they realize that “a system is a group of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot.” In phenomenon-based science teaching, systems and system models is a foundational crosscutting concept that students use to understand phenomena.
We conducted a formative assessment of the systems and system models concept in the context of the rubbish system by asking students what would happen if a component were missing. Students were also asked to give an example of a different system, to identify its components, and to describe how the components interact. Many students struggled with this assessment and were unable to identify a system, so I planned some additional instruction to provide additional support for this concept.
We began the next class with a definition and an example of a system. Then students were asked to decide which objects were examples of systems. I purposefully chose objects that were relevant to our local context in Hawai‘i.
I also asked students to explain how they decided if something was a system. I circulated the room, read and listened to their responses to see where they were with this concept. Several students were still struggling with the systems idea. I decided to do a whole class poll for a few of the things to see which students thought they were systems. I asked students who thought the gecko was a system to raise their hands and asked for someone to explain why. Most students understood that a living thing is a system with many parts. Next I asked who thought a pile of sand was a system. None of the students did.
I knew based on my observations that many students had not identified several things as systems that were systems. I shared the answers with students, which showed that all things except the pile of sand, laundry, and nails were systems. Next, I asked students which answers surprised them. One student said he was surprised that a coconut was a system. I asked the students what a coconut was. They replied that it was a seed. I asked if a seed had a job and they knew that a seed grew into a new coconut tree. Would the seed grow if one of its parts was missing? Then we could agree that a coconut was a system.
We went through several examples from the surprises and for each one, we collaboratively decided if it had parts that interacted. Hopefully this will help more students understand the systems concept. We will see as the unit progresses and students gain more experiences using the systems concept. We will continue to monitor students’ understanding and use of the systems and systems model crosscutting concept.