Abstract for: Exploring Barriers to Implementing System Dynamics Tools for K-12 Sustainability Education

STEM education continues to move up the national priority list with the broad goal of creating STEM- literate learners, able to make sustainable decisions. To this end, systems thinking tools and system dynamics simulations provide a valuable means for helping students think about complex environmental problems. This study, completed in a school district that has adopted a curriculum for 9th grade science that includes system dynamics models, reports on the results of a Web-based survey regarding the use of systems tools in science classrooms and teachers’ understanding of the tools available to them. Teachers identified barriers to implementing systems simulations as both computer access and their own understanding. A test of teachers’ understanding of systems principles reveals inconsistencies in the way they interpret models, based on their understanding of the system. Response themes were verified with a follow-up focus group and the additional themes of suggestions for model use and using models with English Language Learners were captured. Strategies for addressing these issues with professional development are provided. This study focuses on the adoption of system dynamics as a technology and framework that has potential to be effective across disciplines in helping students and teachers communicate about complex global problems.