This year, NewTechKids kicked off a series of computer science summer school programs with a program focused on teaching kids ages seven to 12 about systems thinking and technological systems.

Technology systems are all around us: from the smart energy systems we use to cool our homes to the traffic lights we obey, the self check-out counters we use at grocery stores and the PS4 systems on which kids spend time playing.

Yet, we take technology for granted and consume it without thinking much about it.

Teaching primary school students about systems thinking in the context of technology gives them a framework for understanding how and why technology works as well as their interaction with it.

What is Systems Thinking?

In a broad context, systems thinking is the ability to think and evaluate how systems work, both as a whole and as a system of inter-connected parts. Systems thinking is not about breaking systems into individual elements to understand them. Instead, it focuses on understanding how and why systems work, how their parts work together and how to influence, alter and improve them.

Systems thinking is a valuable skill which we practise in all kinds of contexts and across disciplines. The concept of ‘systems’ is critical to understanding the world around us, from our bodies to the economy, politics, education, ¬†technology and the Internet.

Why Teach Systems Thinking and Technology Systems to Primary School Students?

Children are natural systems thinkers. They can recognize connections between different subjects and gather and process information across disciplines before these subjects are taught at school. Unfortunately, research shows that by the time they are seven to eight years old, formal schooling has largely destroyed their systems thinking to the point that they see subjects separately, with no clear connection to one another.

Teaching systems thinking in the context of technology provides students with a basic understanding of how all technology works which makes technology less complex and mysterious. It also helps students realise that all technology basically works the same and that there is cause and effect in technology.

Specific knowledge and skills related to systems thinking and technology systems that students should acquire in primary school include the ability to:
– evaluate and choose technology
– use a range of technology solutions
– install, repair and debug technology and troubleshoot technology problems
– design, build and program technology

How do you teach systems thinking and technology systems to primary school students?

NewTechKids presents these concepts in the context of computer science. We teach systems by using engineering concepts such as input, output, parts working together and feedback.

During our summer school program, we taught five, daily lessons about technology systems. We noticed that students ages seven to 12 were able to explain these concepts from a theoretical standpoint but when we asked them to illustrate how these concepts work in common technology devices, they could not.

To strengthen their knowledge and skills, we challenged them to work in teams to design, build and program technology prototypes which demonstrated each concept. We also gave them homework assignments to figure out how these concepts work in the context of the technology devices and systems in their homes. Kids explored everything from microwaves to washing machines, smart energy thermostats, virtual assistants such as Alexia, and Play Stations.

It was great to see that in the course of one week, these kids learned to see the world in a different way.