Waters Foundation Research Findings
Based on five years of Waters Foundation teachers’ action research studies, there is evidence to support the following compelling trends:
Students use systems thinking tools to clarify and visually represent their understanding of complex systems.
- Students use behavior-over-time graphs (BOTGs) to depict their understanding of patterns and trends.
- BOTGs are visual tools that help students describe orally and in writing what and how they are thinking.
- Connection circles and causal loop diagrams help students describe their understanding of the connections and interdependencies of complex systems including historical systems, scientific systems, economic systems, cultural systems, political systems, and literary systems, both fiction and nonfiction.
- Students for whom English is a second language have demonstrated marked improvements communicating their thinking both orally and in writing as a result of using behavior-over-time graphs, causal loop diagrams, and the other systems tools.
- When students make their thinking visible through the use of systems tools, teachers can immediately identify misconceptions that students may have about curricular content.
Systems thinking tools help students make connections between curricular areas and relevant life experiences.
- When students use systems thinking concepts and tools, teachers have noted an increased number of incidences of transfer from classroom lessons to students’ real-life experiences.
- An understanding of system structures enables students to see the similarities between seemingly different systems. For example, the understanding of how a contagious disease infects a population helps students understand how a rumor spreads or a fashion trend grows.
Students of all ages learn and independently use systems thinking problem-solving strategies.
- Students experienced in recognizing and using systems thinking concepts and tools seek out new and varied perspectives when solving problems.
- Students use systems thinking vocabulary and concepts to question and challenge seemingly obvious solutions to complex problems. For instance, students use systems thinking archetypes like Fixes that Fail and Shifting the Burden to identify and analyze both short and long-term effects of actions.
- Systems thinking concepts and tools help students understand their own beliefs/mental models and behaviors. Students use BOTGs for self-assessing how behaviors and emotions change over time; ladder of inference for understanding the development of inferences; and causal loop archetypes for retelling the dynamics of particular situations.
Systems thinking concepts and tools help students develop as readers and writers.
- When students use the concepts and tools of systems thinking, they are better able to
- retell and summarize a piece of writing;
- analyze character, plot, setting and theme and the relationships among these literary components;
- identify point of view and the author’s/characters’ mental models;
- describe cause and effect relationships;
- express themselves descriptively.
When using systems thinking concepts and tools, many students show increased motivation, engagement, and self-esteem.
- When using systems thinking tools as a prewriting strategy, students who had been producing below-average writing wrote more (quantity) and developed more thoughtful, insightful content (quality) than they had previously.
- When asked to “tell the story of a line” (BOTGs), “tell the story of a loop” (causal loop diagrams), or “describe a stock-flow map,” many usually reluctant students were more willing to participate in front of others, using visual diagrams as they described ideas or theories.
- Students in special education classes voiced satisfaction at being able to understand challenging concepts typically presented to their non-special education peers but not to them.