Faculteit der Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Informatica

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Melde Gilissen

Melde Gilissen

Systems thinking in upper-secondary education: Fostering coherent understanding of living systems.

Systems thinking can be a helpful pedagogy to improve students’ coherent understanding of living systems in secondary biology education. It is a way of thinking in which biological phenomena are seen as natural wholes that are complex and consist of many interacting parts. Living systems can be explained in terms of systems theoretical characteristics, for example input and output, self-organising and emergent properties. Several studies have developed teaching and learning approaches to implement systems thinking in a specific biological topic, for example cell biology, homeostasis or ecology (Assaraf et al., 2013; Liu & Hmelo-Silver 2009; Raved & Yarden, 2014; Verhoeff, 2003; Westra, 2008). According to Verhoeff, Waarlo & Boersma (2008) implementation of systems thinking asks for more endeavor than one series of lessons. It would be desirable if systems thinking will be introduced in various biological topics. Therefore, this 4,5 year PhD project will focus on the development of systems thinking as a metacognitive tool for students to study the complexity of life. The ultimate aim of this study is that students use the systems approach to understand dynamic living systems in new learning contexts. In that case students are aware of the systems theoretical characteristics that are applicable for all dynamic living systems. They know which questions they have to ask or which principles can be applied to a specific system, to understand the system as a whole. To bridge the gap between science education research and the practical demands of everyday classroom we will involve teachers in the developing process of a teaching and learning approach. The reason for this is that teachers often do not use a new educational reform in practice (Dam, 2014). By involving the teachers in the designing process, the outcomes of this study will not only be valuable for science education research, but also for teachers, teacher educators and publishers. Therefore, the main aim of this study is to define design guidelines for biology teachers to introduce systems thinking in biology education.


M.G.R. Gilissen, R.P. Verhoeff, M.C.P.J. Knippels, W.R. van Joolingen (2017). Design Criteria for a Teaching Approach on Systems Thinking.Presentation at ESERA 2017, Dublin, Ireland.