Abstract for: Developing Understanding of Dynamic Systems Within Early Childhood Settings

When beginning to integrate systems concepts and tools within K-12 education more than 20 years ago, the initial mental model of many teachers was that the strategies would be most appropriate for students in middle and high school. Some years later, teachers questioned this initial assumption and began using a variety of strategies with elementary students. More recently, teachers of preschool considered the work for 3-4 year old students, challenging the boundaries even further while also creating developmentally appropriate methods for introducing and developing systems concepts. Many questions have arisen over time as teachers continue to explore what’s possible as they work with the youngest students. Two of these are, “In what ways is stock and flow thinking foundational to developing cognitive capacities and intellectual engagement while working with children ages three through eight, and how do teachers perceive and assess student understanding as they implement a variety of systems thinking strategies?” This paper describes the impact of many years of research and teacher development specific to the early childhood classroom. Through developing the capacity to make trends and accumulations visible, children recognize the nature of dynamic systems and are better able to communicate their understanding to others.