Focusing on Function: Thinking Below the Surface of Complex Natural Systemsby: Marylee Demeter, Spencer Rugaber, Swaroop Vattam, Ashok Goel, Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Rebecca Jordan, Lei Liu, and Steven Gray

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Structure-Behavior-Function (SBF) thinking considers the different levels of a system in terms of structures, behaviors, and functions, and how these are interconnected (Goel et al. 1996). This article presents an example of helping middle school students use SBF thinking to learn about ecosystems using an aquarium. Students can use an aquarium as a model for natural systems and through the use of questions and simulations—students can use SBF thinking to develop their systems understanding.

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Reviews (2)
  • on Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:47 PM

While the concepts in this article are complex, I like the overall higher order student thinking suggested by this article. The authors ask us to challenge our students to think in a systems frame of mind by considering "what, how and why?" questions to address structure, function and behavior when looking at systems within science. The article used an aquarium as an example of a system - something easy to bring into and maintain within the classroom. I might suggest that this form of analysis could also be used with the human body, while examining an electrical circuit, and even when looking at a rollercoaster. Again, the concepts introduced in this article are somewhat complex, and it may take a couple of reads to really understand the authors' purpose, but I believe this technique offers potential for getting our students thinking critically and analytically. I do recommend this article and the suggestions offered within it to help in the development of student thinking skills.

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

  • on Sat May 07, 2011 5:34 PM

The authors promote the use of an aquarium as an example of an ecological system to help students to begin to realize the inputs and outputs of ecological systems. They promote the use of something they call SBF - Stucture, behavior, function. I did not really understand how the SBF model worked by the end of the article and how it could be transferred to any system other than an aquarium. I also thought some of the explanations for why things happened in their scenarios did not point out that all systems are more than simply the sum of their parts. I liked that they wanted students to make observations of the classroom system and based on those observations, interpretations and possible experiments that could be modeled using computer software. I agree that students don't usually see that models have predictive as well as interpretive value and that students should use models to experiment to see possible outcomes of changes -especially where living organisms are concerned. I th

Tina Harris  (Fairmount, IN)
Tina Harris (Fairmount, IN)

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