Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fifth Grade: Systems Think

The overall focus of the fifth grade science curriculum is systems think. How might educators thread that theme throughout the math teaching/learning year too?

First, define systems with students.

I like to begin with more sophisticated definitions such as the one I found on Wikimedia.

Then I like to pull the definition apart with main words:
  • interacting or interdependent parts forming a complex/intricate whole.
  • surrounded and influenced by its environment
  • described by its structure and purpose
  • expressed in its functioning or behavior
  • also refers to a set of rules that governs structure or behavior
After that I put together a fifth grade friendly and memorable definition, one we can return to each time we discuss a new system in math. For example, we can describe systems in this way:

A system is parts that work together with with structure(s), purpose, and behavior to create specific function(s) or result(s)

With that definition students can study each math unit with a "systems lens" that focuses on the following questions:
  • What is the title(s) of this system?
  • What are the parts of this system?
  • What is the structure (framework) of this system? How can we model and describe this?
  • Why was this system created? What is its purpose?
  • How does this system work, act, or behave? 
  • What is the result or function of this system? What does this system help us to do?
As we study the base-ten place value system, we'll answer these questions.

How do you help fifth grade students to learn math with a systems lens? Why is this important? How will it affect their learning and understanding? What would you add to this approach?