Promoting Systems Thinking Skills in Middle Schools with Game-Based Structural Debriefing

A Game-Based Pedagogical Framework for Promoting Systems Thinking Skills

The systems thinking skills required to understand complex systems have been recognized in education as a core aspect of science literacy and more recently as critical 21st century skills that young Americans need to succeed in today’s competitive global society. The current national standards for science education reflect this perspective by explicitly calling for the incorporation of systems thinking concepts and practices into science education. While this perspective represents an important step forward, how can teachers actually put it into practice? Video games offer affordances to support systems thinking skills. Using games in STEM domains can increase students’ interest and engagement. However, despite increasing research interest, little is yet known about designing game-based curricula that facilitate systems thinking skills. Simply playing a game without a systematic pedagogical approach is insufficient because the game remains a “black box” to students even if they implicitly understand how the system operates. To address this gap, we propose Game-Based Structural Debriefing (GBSD), a pedagogical innovation to help teachers cultivate systems thinking skills by introducing games into the classroom. The framework is based on the literature of systems thinking and system dynamics modeling. This study uses the design‐based research method to refine the framework and investigate its efficacy at both teacher and student levels.

Funding: Spencer Foundation (duration: 1/1/16-8/31/17)

Oleg Pavlov, PhD: Principal Investigator. As an associate professor of economics and system dynamics, I provided expertise in systems thinking and structural debriefing.
Yoon Jeon Kim, PhD: Co-Principal Investigator. Dr. Kim was a research scientist at the MIT’s Teaching Systems Lab. Her research centers on the design and development of learning and assessment in technology-rich environments, particularly video games and simulations.
Lees Stuntz: a Consultant. Ms. Stuntz is the Director of the Creative Learning Exchange, a non-profit organization in Massachusetts dedicated to teaching systems thinking in K-12.
Steven Roderick, MA: a Master Teacher. Mr. Roderick was a public high school biology teacher in Massachusetts. He had been developing and teaching science curricula that incorporate systems thinking and computer modeling for over 25 years.
John Storella-Mullin: a Teacher. Former engineer, has been teaching engineering at a middle school for 10 years.
Patrick Kerrigan: a science teacher at an urban charter school, pre-med and biology major in college, 2+ years of teaching.
Brad Cranston: a Teacher. 10+ years of teaching life science. A biology major in college and has a Master’s degree in neuroscience.

Pavlov, O., Y.J. Kim and C. Whitlock. “Food Fight: Teaching Systems Thinking and Ecosystems.” In Schrier, Karen (Ed.). Learning, Education, & Games, Volume 3: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom and Beyond. Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press. 2019: 150-155.

Kim, Y.J. and O. Pavlov. “Game-Based Structural Debriefing: How Can Teachers Design Game-Based Curricula for Systems Thinking?” Information and Learning Sciences. 120 (9/10), 2019: 567-588.

Conference presentations
Pavlov, O. and Y.J. Kim. “A Learning Sciences Investigation of Game-Based Structural Debriefing.” In the Proceedings of the 35th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society. Boston, MA. July 16-20, 2017.

Kim, Y.J. and O. Pavlov. “Game-Based Structural Debriefing: A Design Tool for Systems Thinking Curriculum.” In the Proceedings of “EDULEARN17: 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies.” Barcelona, Spain. July 3-5, 2017.

Kim, Y.J. and O. Pavlov. “Game-Based Structural Debriefing: Development of a Pedagogical Framework for Promoting Systems Thinking Skills.” In the Proceedings of the 2016 AERA Annual Meeting. Washington, D.C., April 8-12, 2016

Teacher Resources