Strong arguments have been made about the importance, difficulties, and implications for
learning and integrating complex systems approaches in K-12 classrooms (Jacobson & Wilensky,
2006). Complex systems approaches allow researchers to examine “aspects of the real world for
which events and actions have multiple causes and consequences, and where order and structure
coexist at many different scales of time, space and organization. (Jacobson & Wilensky, 2006, p.
12).” Previous research has documented the difficulties students experience when learning
concepts relevant to understanding larger complex systems (e.g. Stieff & Wilensky, 2003;
Samarapungavan & Wiers, 1997) While difficult, a systems thinking approach is necessary in
order to fully understand and generate viable responses to complex societal and global issues
(e.g. climate change, alternative energy) that involve science, technology, engineering and
mathematics (STEM). The higher order thinking skills enmeshed in such systems thinking
approaches are a key feature of 21st Century learning frameworks (AAAS, 2009; Partnership for
21st Century Skills, 2009). Because of the importance placed upon a systems learning approach
(e.g. Hmelo-Silver & Azevedo, 2006; Wilensky, 1999; Jacobson & Wilensky, 2006), research has
been done that examines what makes these approaches challenging in addition to research on
pedagogical approaches about how students approach systems (Perkins & Grotzer, 2005;
Resnick, 1994). While research exists about complex systems learning (e.g. Resnick, 1996;
Wilensky, 1999; Metcalf et al, 2011), little work has been done to examine how students participate
and engage within systems in solving specific problems.
According to Hmelo-Silver and Azevedo (2006), complex systems consist of hierarchal,
multiple levels of organization and interaction. Previous work by Hmelo-Silver and Pfeffer (2004)
demonstrated this by examining how experts and novices think about complex systems. In their
study, Hmelo-Silver and Pfeffer (2004) examined the representations of an aquatic system in
middle grade classrooms by both novices and experts.........
Engineering Design Project
Papers and Presentations
Anderson, J. (Under Review). Using Activity Theory to Analyze and Describe Elementary Students Understanding of Engineering Design Principles Through Lego Robotics. Instructional Science.
Anderson, J. & Barnett, M. (2006). Using Activity Theory to Analyze and Describe Special Needs Students Understanding of Engineering Design Principles Through Lego Robotics. Paper presented at the Annual International Meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, April 2006. San Francisco, California
Anderson, J. & Barnett, M. (2006). Innovative Session: Early Childhood Robotics for Learning. Paper presented at the International Conference of Learning Sciences. July 2006, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Indiana.
Anderson, J. (2005). Activity Theory, Special Needs and Engineering Design Understandings. Paper presented at the Crossroads Conference. University of Connecticut, October 9-11, 2005.
Anderson, J. & Barnett, M. (2005). Using Activity Theory to Analyze and Describe Special Needs Students Understanding of Engineering Design Principles Through Lego Robotics. Paper presented at the International ROBOLAB Conference. August 13-15, 2005, Austin, Texas.