Complex Systems and Young Children
The BioSim project is a suite of participatory simulation tools to enhance elementary school science. Our designs aim to move beyond elementary science activities that consist of observation to science activities that engage children’s imagination and invite them into inquiry as a meaningful, relevant practice.
The world is a complex system, made up of many inter-related and inter-dependent elements. Scientists often discuss these relations in terms of their properties as complex systems and, as a result, science educators seek to help students understand complex-systems concepts. Unfortunately, most students and adults find complex-systems-related concepts to be difficult to learn. Furthermore, while some studies have shown that young students can learn about biological systems these students continue to be a rarity in discussions about teaching complex-systems related concepts. One goal of the proposed research is to help identify an approach for introducing young children to complex systems that may support them in learning additional systems as they continue in their academic careers.
One likely reason that young students are left out of discussions of complexity is because researchers assume that young students lack the cognitive and meta-cognitive skills necessary to understand complexity. We suggest shifting the focus to the potential of activity systems in which young children engage in order to get a clearer picture of the kinds of science young children are capable of learning. We propose using Activity Theory as an analytic framework for designing and interpreting young children’s science activities. In particular, we offer an approach grounded in the notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which highlights the idea that the most productive kind of learning occurs when youth are assisted by a more capable other to work at the edge of their competence.
Enter BioSim, a design approach we developed that uses the expanded activity triangle to guide us in identifying a meaningful “object” for students’ activity, and the relationships between the other mediators of their activity and this object. Explore this website to learn more about our endeavors toward this aim.