Teaching Science Through a Systems Approachby: Douglas Llewellyn and Scott Johnson

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Based on the recommendation of the AAAS and the NRC, middle level science is the rightful introduction for a systems approach, including the study of its parts, subsystems, interconnections, and interrelationships. Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax provides an excellent opportunity to combine ecological consequences within a systems approach (Sweeney 2001). The inquiry-based lesson described here is designed using the 5E instructional model and develops students’ critical-thinking skills as they create concept maps to depict the relationships among components of a larger system.

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Reviews (4)
  • on Wed Jul 16, 2014 9:56 PM

This is a great article and a "highly recommended" read to all teachers. The systems approach to teaching science is a great fit for the new NGSS standards, and for great overall science teaching. I especially like that the included activity, which illustrates how to teach science from a systems approach, is written into the 5E format. The lesson is engaging, relevant and presents science from a system perspective. I highly recommend this article, and I will use the activity as described in this article to introduce my environmental science unit. Great article, great lesson idea, and an amazing concept.

Susanne Hokkanen  (Orland Park, IL)
Susanne Hokkanen (Orland Park, IL)

  • on Wed May 04, 2011 10:02 AM

After describing what a system is the authors explain how a concept map helps students to understand systemic relationships. Students read and view the Lorax. They are given character cards and asked to create their own concept maps to demonstrate the ecological relationships in that story. This allows students to develop deeper understandings when the connections of cause and effect become evident in the concept map format. The authors describe this as a 6-E model of learning. Overall this process seems like it would be a fun way to get students to think at a higher level.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:48 PM

This article not only addresses the importance of teaching concepts within science in a systems approach, it also provides a 5E lesson to help, including the concept map and cards that can be copied and distributed. I teach environmental science and space science – both content areas that can be and should be taught in a systems approach. I plan to use the Lorax lesson plan at the beginning of my next school year, and to teach these content areas in a systems approach. In the article, I especially like how the systems approach is explained, how the systems approach is compared to a more linear approach of teaching science concepts, and how the benefits of a system approach are outlined and discussed. The added bonus is the 5E lesson plan to introduce the concept to students!

Susanne Hokkanen  (Orland Park, IL)
Susanne Hokkanen (Orland Park, IL)

  • on Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:40 PM

I completed concept map activity with my middle school students. Systems is a difficult concept for most middle school students. I told my students we were going to look at systems through the story of the “The Lorax”. The directions I gave were, as I read the story, I wanted them to take notes on each of the characters and the contribution the characters make. Once the story was completed they were going to create a concept map within their groups connecting the characters and contributions to each other. Initially the students did okay, but many were still missing some of the bigger ideas in the story, mostly because they needed exposure to the story again. Many of my students were not familiar with Dr. Seuss’ work, so I chose to show them the video to help create a more visual picture of what was going on. This helped a lot. They were able to go back to their original concept maps and see more of the connections. Each of the groups took a photo of their concept maps, which

Sandra Gady  (Renton, WA)
Sandra Gady (Renton, WA)

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