Conceptualization of System Structure as a Stepping Stone to Systems Understanding among K-12 Students

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Conceptualization of System Structure as a Stepping Stone to Systems Understanding among K-12 Students

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A new vision set forth by the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) highlights the importance of developing students’ abilities to think about systems as opposed to isolated facts. However, little evidence exists on how to foster students’ conceptualization of systems. It has been argued that conceptualization of systems structure serves as a stepping stone to understanding of systems (Arnold & Wade, 2015; Assaraf & Orion, 2005). Thus, this dissertation presents an analysis of students’ conceptualization of systems structure as a result of a curricular intervention at the high school level. The systems-oriented unit served as a context in which students’ identification of connections between components within a system could be investigated. Prior research exclusively examined conceptualization of processes to understand how students develop systems understanding (Kali, Orion & Eylon, 2003; Libarkin & Kurdziel, 200). Given the stipulated relationship between systems understanding and connections between material components that make up system structure, this study investigated students’ conceptualization of system structure through the ways in which they connect components within category of matter. The main objectives of the study were: 1) to examine the ways in which students identify connections between matter components within a system and use these connections as a basis for the development of a Systems Matter Framework (SMF), 2) to examine the validity of the developed framework by using this construct as a basis to evaluate students’ representations of connections between system components. The evaluation of SMF validity demonstrated that this framework can be used to track growing conceptualization of system structure and to relate it with the development of systems understanding. Therefore, the SMF can be used as an instrument for student evaluation. To examine generalizability, future research needs to examine SMF in different settings.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2019. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Gillian Roehrig, Anita Schuchardt. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 155 pages.

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Ghalichi, Narmin. (2019). Conceptualization of System Structure as a Stepping Stone to Systems Understanding among K-12 Students. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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