Tucson Header

Better Together: Think Big. Think Bold. Think Systems! 

Systems Thinking Institute

September 27–29, 2017

Hilton El Conquistador Resort

Institute Schedule

There are two options for participation.  Option 1 allows attendees to participate in a two-day workshop of their choice and Option 2 allows attendees to participate in a one-day workshop combined with a field trip experience on day two.  Both options include all keynote sessions and group activities.  In addition, all participants are invited to attend the Institute kick-off event on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, September 27th, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. – Systems Leaders Spotlight and Institute Kick-off

Thursday, September 28th, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Friday, September 29th, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Workshop options can be found below.

Systems Leaders Spotlight

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to hear from some of our nation’s most respected and experienced systems leaders. In this panel discussion, each leader will speak candidly about challenges in their work, their vision for success related to systems thinking and the progress made thus far. Following the panel discussion, there will be an audience question-and-answer session. Come prepared to discuss what’s on your mind regarding education, student success, leadership and more!

Light appetizers and drinks will be served.

This event is complimentary. Space is limited. Those enrolled in the Institute (Sept. 28-29) will be granted guaranteed admission. Those not enrolled in the Institute will be admitted on a first come, first served basis.

To register for the Systems Leaders Spotlight ONLY (i.e. you will not be attending the Institute Sept. 28-29), please email Alexis Littlejohns


Option 1 – Two-Day Workshops

Introduction to Systems Thinking

— Facilitator: Joan Yates, Vice President, Waters Foundation

Receive an introduction on how to use systems thinking in conjunction with other teaching and learning practices. Participants will develop knowledge of systems thinking concepts, Habits and tools. This interactive workshop provides an opportunity to experience, practice and discuss interactive and inquiry-based instructional strategies that support designated curricular standards and utilize systems thinking.tools resized

This workshop is geared toward anyone interested in learning about systems thinking.


Systems Thinking for Business and Community Organizations

— Facilitator: Tracy Benson, President, Waters Foundation and Sheri Marlin, Chief Education Officer, Waters Foundation 

A systems thinking point of view encourages leaders to step back and see the whole picture, rather than focusing on just its parts. When individuals have a clear and deep understanding of their departments, divisions or organizations as whole systems, they are better equipped to identify leverage actions that lead to improvements and desired outcomes. This session will introduce systems thinking concepts, Habits and tools that will help your organization develop:

  • positive and productive organizational cultures,
  • effective communication and collaboration skills, and
  • decision-making and problem-solving approaches that maximize benefits.

Participants will learn and practice strategies for working together that will inform the quality of day-to-day interactions and propel desirable organizational outcomes.

This workshop is geared toward business and community members/leaders.


Leadership Matters – The Habits of a Systems Thinking Leader

— Facilitator: Mary Quinnan, Executive Director, Leadership and School Improvement, Waters Foundation

Effective leadership is essential to any learning organization tasked with improving and sustaining effective cards- scattered-01classrooms.  When a school operates under effective leadership, the chances of academic success increase. Research tells us that students in effective schools succeed at a greater rate than students in ineffective schools. Research also stresses that although administrators are central leaders in schools, they are not the only leaders. Strong connections have been found between student achievement and collective leadership in schools.

Systems thinking enables school leaders to understand the connections and interdependencies of their systems. Leaders practice the Habits of a Systems Thinker and use systems tools to develop a deep and practical understanding of the world. The Habits and tools presented in this workshop will offer practical ways of thinking that will inform action. Participants will explore and experience systems thinking through a variety of kinesthetic activities, reflective protocols and applications to current reality. Emerging leaders in the classroom, school or district level, or in collaborative communities will walk away with the understanding of practices they can use immediately.

This workshop is geared toward educators at all levels.


Energy System for Everyone

— Facilitator: DaNel Hogan, Director of The STEMAZing Project for the Office of the Pb3f48d_191c0bd980664d5f93d4aaa0784c6d2cima County School Superintendent in Tucson, Arizona

Explore complexities of the energy system by playing a game and physically moving through a simulation! How are countries and their citizens impacted by the energy resources available to them? How can everyone meet their energy needs while still caring about environmental impacts? What is the carbon cycle? How is it different from pre-industrial time to post-industrial times? Oh, and what the heck is energy anyway? Regardless of your background or expertise, we are all impacted by the energy system. Energy-literate citizens know about the science of energy and also the social, political, and economic sides of the energy system. Join us to experience the Global Trading Game, the Carbon Cycle Simulation, and to just better understand the energy system as a whole.

This workshop is geared toward education, community and business members/leaders.


Systems Thinking in Early Childhood:  Play, Practice and Policy

— Facilitators: Amber Jones, Early Education Consultant, Waters Foundation and Naomi Karp, Director of Early Childhood Professional Development, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

In this workshop you will learn about an innovative early childhood professional development project in Tucson that has used systems thinking concepts and tools to transform the early childhood education community. Participants will explore systems thinking through the lens of the young child, the classroom teacher, education specialists and policy makers.

This workshop is focused on early childhood education.


Science, Systems and Baseball

— Facilitators: Ricardo Valerdi, Professor, University of Arizona Systems and Industrial Engineering Department and SpaceX Engineer; and Rocco Valerdi, 5th Grader, Sam Hughes Elementary and Left Fielder for the Diamondbacks, Frontier Little League

Do you know anyone who hates math? Or anyone who has been told that they are bad at math? It turns out, math can be really fun when it is applied to an engaging activity like baseball. The Science of Baseball program was developed in 2012 precisely for this reason. Over 60,000 students around the country have participated in Science of Baseball activities thanks to funding from Major League Baseball teams. Now, it’s your turn to step up to the plate!

Participants will engage in a variety of hands-on activities that illustrate the connection between baseball, STEM, and the Habits of a Systems Thinker, including:

  • Fielding percentages (cause and effect, connections)
  • Baseball park geometry (big picture, system structure)
  • Biomechanics of a pitch (rate of change, mental models)
  • Home run trajectory (change over time, successive approximation)

No experience with baseball is required, only a willingness to learn. Watch Ricardo’s TEDx video for more information about the Science of Baseball.

This workshop is geared toward educators at all levels.







Option 2 –  Classroom-Focused Workshop with Field Trip Experience

One-day workshops will focus on the role of systems thinking in particular schools/classrooms. During the workshop on Sept. 28, get an overview of how systems thinking is utilized with students. Then, experience it firsthand by visiting the school/classroom examined during a field trip on Sept. 29.

Note— the school you choose on the registration form will coincide with your classroom-focused workshop on Sept. 28th. Options can be found below.  Space is limited for field trips, so register early.


Field Trips

Catalina Foothills School District (Orange Grove Middle School and Manzanita Elementary School):

Catalina Foothills School District is a system of schools recognized as an exceptional learning place for our community’s school-age children. The district strategic plan, Envision21: Deep Learning, outlines a commitment to prepare students well for a 21st century life that is increasingly complex and global. Catalina Foothills School District is determined to create a learning environment in which each student achieves academic and personal excellence.



Borton Magnet School:

Borton serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with special emphasis on project-based learning, systems thinking, literature, fine arts, outdoor learning, and computer-assisted instruction. Borton’s magnet programs offer students and parents choices and educational opportunities beyond those found in other schools.


CITY Center for Collaborative Learning:

CITY Center for Collaborative Learning designs, implements, and advances exemplary practices in teaching and learning that transform the lives of young people and their educators. CITYccl offers professional development and community engagement experiences for educators and education advocates, including school visits and workshops. The field trip experience will include visits to City High School and Paulo Freire Freedom School.