System Blocks: Learning about Systems Concepts through Hands-on Modeling and Simulation

Zuckerman, O. "System Blocks: Learning about Systems Concepts through Hands-on Modeling and Simulation"


The world is complex and dynamic. Our lives and environment are constantly changing. We are surrounded by all types of interconnected, dynamic systems: ecosystems, financial markets, business processes, and social systems. Nevertheless, research has shown that people's understanding of dynamic behavior is extremely poor.

In this thesis I present System Blocks, a new learning technology that facilitates hands-on modeling and simulation of dynamic behavior. System Blocks, by making processes visible and manipulable, can help people learn about the core concepts of systems. System Blocks provide multiple representations of system behavior (using lights, sounds, and graphs), in order to support multiple learning styles and more playful explorations of dynamic processes.

I report on an exploratory study I conducted with ten 5th grade students and five preschool students. The students used System Blocks to model and simulate systems, and interacted with concepts that are traditionally considered "too hard" for pre-college students, such as net-flow dynamics and positive feedback. My findings suggest that using System Blocks as a modeling and simulation platform can provide students an opportunity to confront their misconceptions about dynamic behavior, and help students revise their mental models towards a deeper understanding of systems concepts.

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