Systems thinking helps Foothills students - The Explorer: Import

Systems thinking helps Foothills students

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Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

June 14, 2006 - Two are teachers, one worked for the Federal Government, and another is a lawyer.

And all are former Catalina Foothills School District students with one thing in common, they were taught systems thinking by their teachers.

Now in their mid-20's, the students returned to the place were it all began Orange Grove Middle School, June 3 for a reunion and a videotaping of their experience in the district and with systems thinking.

Systems thinking sounds more complex that it really is. The basis of the teaching method revolves primarily around finding similarities between more than one subject using research, visual tools and computer simulations, said Joan Yates, district systems project manager.

The method taught to teachers and disseminated to students began more than 17 years ago when a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dean, Gordon Brown, brought it to the district.

MIT has used systems thinking for years and Brown thought it would be something useful for public schools.

Since its inception, hundreds of teachers have gone through the more than 30 hours of training and thousands of students have benefited from the instruction, Yates said.

Six of those students and one via speakerphone from Washington, D.C., came to record a videotape that will be made available to school district governing boards throughout the country.

"It expanded your mind," said Kellie Christenson, 26, now living in Glendale, Calif. and attending medical school. "It must have had a great impact."

The same students were taped when they were in middle-school more than 15 years ago in a project by James Morrison, a filmmaker, in which systems thinking was demonstrated using the late Brown, MIT and the Foothills classroom teachers and students.

Yates went back to the old videotape and searched for students and asked them to come back to Orange Grove and be in a new video.

Morrison remembers the students well. They are adults, but they have remained the same, he said.

He was just happy to get the grant to film the video for the Creative Learning Exchange years later to be seen by a new audience.

The video is a way of "letting more school populations know that systems thinking and systems dynamics are something that they can make available to their students," Yates said.

And as for the students who have graduated and moved on from the district, Yates said she knows systems thinking made a difference in their lives.

"It was extraordinarily gratifying to think back to all the time, thinking and learning they have done," Yates said. "After they left they realized they got to learn in way # # that other students their age didn't get to learn."

Athena Constantakis, a local dentist, wanted to be in the video to see old friends as well as show others that the education she received made a difference in her life, she said.

"Orange Grove was a great middle school that helped lay a foundation for learning later in my life," she said in an e-mail interview. "The teachers always went out of their way to help us understand the different topics."

When systems thinking first began, the district only had three schools and the program was only at Orange Grove Middle School. It is now district-wide and has expanded to include teachers at TUSD, Sahuarita, and others in Philadelphia and around the country, Yates said.

Constantakis remembers working in many computer simulations that revolved around systems thinking.

"Each simulation was a new adventure," she said. "Not only did we learn the required lesson, but we also had fun in the process."

Even years later she remembers using computer simulators to build a solar home and a natural park.

"The simulations really got us to think of the outside world and the fact that not every problem has one perfect answer," she said.

Revisiting the school was a way to acknowledge the effects systems thinking had on her and her friends, she said.

"It was great to see some of my old classmates," Constantakis said. "They have all excelled in different areas and all agree that systems thinking encouraged them to open their eyes to learning and the world around them."

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