Teaching Resources for Systems Thinking

A Crucial Skill for 21st Century Students

Teaching Systems Thinking Skills | Tools and TechniquesPractical ideas for updating your courses and engaging studentsFriday, April 14th 2023 | 11 am-noon Eastern| WATCH VIDEO

Whereas traditionally research and education have focused on linear relationships of cause and effect, many of the world’s biggest problems behave in non-linear ways, subject to feedback loops and interactions with other parts of the system. As a result, systems thinking has been described as a critical skill for the 21st century. For instructors new to teaching systems thinking skills in the classroom, there are many available tools, techniques, and resources. In this webinar, instructors will introduce some of the ones that they have found helpful and describe how to incorporate them into your own courses. The webinar particularly focuses on teaching these topics in environmental courses, but should be broadly applicable to other educational areas.


Webinar Presentations



Recommended Pedagogical Resources from Webinar Panelists
Other resources for teaching systems thinking:


1.       Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

2.       Chase, L., & Grubinger, V. (2014). Food, farms, and community: Exploring food systems (First edition). University of New Hampshire Press.

3.       Leonard, A. (2011). The story of stuff: The impact of overconsumption on the planet, our communities, and our health-and how we can make it better (Reprint edition).Free Press.

4.       Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2021). The dawn of everything: A new history of humanity (First Edition). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

5.       Mann, C. C. (2006). 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus (1st edition). Vintage.

6.       Graeber, D. (2012). Debt: The first 5,000 years (Reprint edition). Melville House.

7.       Meadows, D. (1997). Places to Intervene in a System. Whole Earth, 91(1), 78–84.

8.       Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vision. Cambridge.

9.       Allen, K. E. (2019). Leading from the roots: Nature-inspired leadership lessons for today’s world. Morgan James.

10.     Sweeney, L. B., & Meadows, D. (2010). The systems thinking playbook: Exercises to stretch and build learning and systems thinking capabilities. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Online resources

1.       Systems Thinking Resources – The Donella Meadows Project https://donellameadows.org/systems-thinking-resources/

2.       InTeGrate Systems Thinking Resources

●        https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/systems.html

●        https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/syst_thinking/index.html

3.       Integrating sustainability into engineering education: https://engineeringforoneplanet.org

4.       Liberating Structures Process: https://www.liberatingstructures.com/

5.       WWF, The Art and Craft of Systems Change, https://www.worldwildlife.org/projects/the-art-and-craft-of-systems-change

6.      WWF, Linking thinking: New perspectives on thinking and learning for sustainability, http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/linkingthinking.pdf

Modeling platforms

1.       Loopy https://ncase.me/loopy/

2.       Vensim https://vensim.com/

3.       Stella https://www.iseesystems.com/store/products/stella-online.aspx

4.       SageModeler https://sagemodeler.concord.org/about/index.html

5.       NetLogo https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/

6.       Mental Modeler https://www.mentalmodeler.com/

Systems Thinking at George Mason University

Incorporating Systems Thinking: A Core Strategy for University Impact

Understanding our increasingly interconnected world requires systems thinking– the ability to recognize how everyday phenomena emerge from interactions within complex systems composed of people, nature, and the planet on which we live. Systems thinking skills and approaches support George Mason University’s strategic vision for achieving impact through educational programs that promote interdisciplinarity, recognize diverse perspectives, and engage communities. Yet, despite their relevance to the institution’s goals, they remain at the periphery of these discourses. This report describes findings from a daylong workshop in November 2022 in which Mason faculty, staff, and students described current approaches to teaching systems thinking and examined some of the challenges they face in doing so. DOWNLOAD REPORT HERE.


Successfully enacting social change that addresses systemic inequalities and inequity requires the capacity for systems thinking that encompasses both the socioeconomic and environmental dimensions of racism and other forms of social injustice. Yet, formal pedagogical resources for teaching students how to approach complex socio-ecological systems are often found only at the margins of traditional university disciplines. Furthermore, precise concepts and analytical methods can vary widely between the natural sciences, economics, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities. We hope to address this opportunity by collecting teaching resources for systems thinking here, and making them available to all faculty and graduate students teaching courses on related to sustainability, resilience, and environmental justice.

The impetus for this open-access collection was a Curriculum Improvement Grant (2022-23) awarded to Dr. Karen Akerlof (Environmental Science & Policy), Prof. Andrew Wingfield (School of Integrative Studies), Dr. Ted Chen (ESP), Dr. Jeremy Campbell (ISE), and Meaghan Caruso (ESP Graduate Student). This living archive of pedagogical materials is open to new submissions from Mason affiliates; please submit inquiries to Jeremy Campbell at jcampb30@gmu.edu.

Incorporating Systems Thinking: A Core Strategy for University Impact: Recommendations from a workshop (Nov. 2022)