Detecting subsystem interactions within the climate system
Changing climate, changing landscapes, changing populations; grasping each of these complex phenomena as well as their resultant issues requires the sophisticated ability to think systematically. For example, consideration of how our climate is changing requires an understanding of how our climate operates in time and space, and how the climate subsystems operate independently and connected to the entire system. The ocean-atmosphere subsystem not only operates at multiple temporal and spatial scales, but it also influences the climate system as a whole. Grasping such nuances of complex systems can develop through concentrated efforts in this area. This quantitative-qualitative research employed a mental model conceptual representation as a digital platform that learners used to develop system complexity during an inquiry unit on the human climate system. More specifically, we were interested in the effectiveness of this intervention on increasing student's abilities to integrate subsystems into their systems thinking.
Grounded in model-based reasoning and systems thinking research, the PMC-2E framework afforded students the opportunity to consider the complex phenomena from a generic level with basic components and mechanisms, and as the unit developed, they reconsidered the system with greater sophistication to include interacting subsystems. These results were found using three methods to assess students' performance related to inclusion of subsystems into their conceptualization of the climate system from pre-unit to post-unit. The data included: 1) inclusion of subsystems in concept maps (treatment only; n = 23); 2) inclusion of subsystems in explanations of the climate system (treatment (n = 23)) and comparison (n = 21)); and 3) scores in the climate knowledge instrument questions related to an interacting climate subsystem (treatment (n = 23) and comparison (n = 21)). These results will assist researchers interested in how we develop systems thinking and will assist instructors challenged with identifying effective methods to assist learners in developing systems thinking.