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Systems Thinking – a key concept in Geography Education

Authors: Armin Rempfler*, University of Teacher Education Lucerne
Topics: Geography Education
Keywords: System competence modelling, Socio-ecological approach, Implementation in school practice
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The great challenges of the 21st century (e.g. climate change, resource wars) are geographically relevant highly complex topics. Like almost no other subject, geography has the potential to make learners aware of this complexity and to help them understand how to deal with it adequately. To achieve this, instructional problems not only require a didactic reduction of facts, but also an increase in the self-complexity of the students. This means that students need to be instructed to make more cognitive decisions per action, which implies running through causes and their causes, or effects and effects of the effects, and so on, in their mind. According to this, high self-complexity is congruent with high competence in systems thinking.
First I present a study in which we developed a competence model that, in contrast to Earth System Science Education, is based on a broad socio-ecological approach. This means that it refers - in the sense of a holistic understanding of geography - to both natural and social as well as human-environment systems. To validate the theoretical model, we developed a measuring instrument and tested it with Item Response Theory methods, so that we can now diagnose the system competence of students in a valid and reliable way. Then I will present a follow-up study that focuses on the implementation of systems thinking in school practice. In extensive training courses, teachers will be instructed in the promotion of systems thinking in geography lessons. The effectiveness of these measures is examined using qualitative methods.

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