Research in Science Education

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 491–514 | Cite as

Developing Seventh Grade Students’ Understanding of Complex Environmental Problems with Systems Tools and Representations: a Quasi-experimental Study

  • Zerrin Doganca Kucuk
  • Ali Kerem Saysel


A systems-based classroom intervention on environmental education was designed for seventh grade students; the results were evaluated to see its impact on the development of systems thinking skills and standard science achievement and whether the systems approach is a more effective way to teach environmental issues that are dynamic and complex. A quasi-experimental methodology was used to compare performances of the participants in various dimensions, including systems thinking skills, competence in dynamic environmental problem solving and success in science achievement tests. The same pre-, post- and delayed tests were used with both the comparison and experimental groups in the same public middle school in Istanbul. Classroom activities designed for the comparison group (N = 20) followed the directives of the Science and Technology Curriculum, while the experimental group (N = 22) covered the same subject matter through activities benefiting from systems tools and representations such as behaviour over time graphs, causal loop diagrams, stock-flow structures and hands-on dynamic modelling. After a one-month systems-based instruction, the experimental group demonstrated significantly better systems thinking and dynamic environmental problem solving skills. Achievement in dynamic problem solving was found to be relatively stable over time. However, standard science achievement did not improve at all. This paper focuses on the quantitative analysis of the results, the weaknesses of the curriculum and educational implications.


Systems thinking skills Environmental education Dynamic problem solving Dynamic modelling 



This research was supported by Boğaziçi University Scientific Research Projects Commission project no. D5729, which enabled the provision of the materials, instruments and service required for the study. Besides, we would like to thank Professor Ebru Zeynep Muğaloğlu for her invaluable feedbacks and encouragement for this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BAUSTEM Research CenterBahcesehir UniversityIstanbulTurkey
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental SciencesBoğaziçi UniversityIstanbulTurkey

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