Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Development of Early Conceptions in Systems Thinking in an Environmental Context: An Exploratory Study of Preschool Students' Understanding of Stocks & Flows, Behavior Over Time and Feedback
by Gillmeister, Kristina M., Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2017, 222; 10256359
Abstract (Summary)

Systems thinking allows learners to look at the world as a series of interconnected parts of a whole. A debate exists in early childhood research literature about whether or not children have the capacity to hold systems thinking conceptions due to the complex thought processing needed for systems thinking. Additionally, many researchers question whether children have enough life experience or cognitive schema to participate fully in systems thinking. However, this study’s findings indicate that young children do show signs of more complex understanding in systems thinking than what previous literature suggests a young child has the ability to do. This three part research study was conducted in a universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) classroom in a first-ring suburb of a rust-belt city in the Northeastern United States. The study was grounded in a desire to uncover young children’s understanding of systems thinking through everyday classroom activities. Twenty students participated in this qualitative study which utilized read-aloud, water play and the interpretation and creation of graphs through associated structured and semi-structured interviews. Data from student’s observations and interviews was transcribed, segmented, coded and analyzed. This student-centered process approach (Gotwals & Alonzo, 2012) allowed for children’s ideas to emerge naturally during the research tasks. Data was analyzed according to a three step analysis process using a real-world lens, a systems thinking skills lens, and the development of lower anchors for future learning progressions lens. Across a group of 20 preschool children there was an overarching theme that the ability to think in systems and utilize simple systems thinking tools, such as stock-flow maps, feedback loops and behavior over time graphs, was present. Since children are ready to reason using rudimentary systems thinking, then systems thinking opportunities should be incorporated into their informal and formal learning settings. The knowledge that children have the ability to comprehend basic systems thinking concepts is important to early childhood educators, curriculum developers, teacher preparation programs, professional developers, and standards & policy makers.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Yerrick, Randy
Commitee: Brenneman, Kimberly, Cameron, Claire, Liu, Xiufeng, McMahon, Maureen, Sarama, Julie
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Learning and Instruction
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Education, Early childhood education, Science education
Keywords: Systems thinking
Publication Number: 10256359
ISBN: 9780355044089
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