Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Fall 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Department of Integrated Science and Technology


Michael L. Deaton


Systems thinking is a fundamental learning methodology in sustainability education and in some K-12 standards-based education systems in the United States. However, there is little research and practical application on the use of systems thinking in environmental education, especially at the elementary level. This thesis uses a case study on climate change to assess whether a pedagogy based on systems thinking can fulfill learning objectives derived from the Illinois Learning Standards for Science (ILSS) and provide further insights and understandings on the subject being studied. Three learning modules on climate change consisting of systems thinking habits of mind, concepts, and tools were taught to fourth grade students from the Chicago area as an informal pilot study. It was determined that a systems thinking approach does yield results that suggest fulfillment of the ILSS. A systems thinking approach is also successful in engaging students, creating a fun and interactive learning environment, and making learning more learner-centered and hands-on. More empirical research on the benefits of systems thinking, especially in elementary education, is needed, in both standards-based education and in environmental education.