Systems Thinking and the Complexity of Kodo Products

Ramblings from Chris
systems thinkingSystems Thinking is a term describing the thought process around understanding how interwoven parts or events act together to make a whole. An example of this is an engine in which many parts work together to produce a rotating drive shaft. Understanding these complex systems takes two things: 1) an independent comprehension of each part; and 2) the overall comprehension of how each element interacts with others.

Electrical Engineers are a great example of Systems Thinkers. Prior to the Digital age, Electrical Engineers (my father and myself included) learned about resistors, capacitors, switches, and diodes, not to mention voltage and current. These basic components combine in very creative ways to make complex systems. For my father, those systems produced the first motion sensor and launched his business. The need for Systems Thinkers in the 21st century is of utmost importance! Just think of the systems we navigate on a daily basis- even the apps on your phone work independently and also together to make up a personal communications system.

We all see complex Systems Thinking happen on a daily basis in the classroom. Children thinking not only about the singular task at hand, but also comprehending the larger picture of the whole system.

As a simple example, Kodo’s new Conveyor Belt is a system in itself. Turn the crank handle (a simple system in itself), which moves a drive shaft, which in turn moves the belt. This belt moves over four axles to create a moving platform. A simple system powered by children. Children then use this system and add more complexity through items they transport from one end to the other, on top or underneath. Amazingly, children not only understand this system but they utilize and change how it functions.

The Conveyor is a fixed system, meaning the pieces all work together in the same way each time producing the same result.

A more manipulable product for exploring Systems Thinking is the Discovery Ramps. When children play with the ramps they define the “system”. Each piece they place into play adds another element and grows the system. To do this children need to understand each piece before they place it into the system. It would be very hard to build an engine if you did not know how gas burns, and hard to build a system of ramps if you did not know that slope is what makes a ball move!

As teachers we can support this work by providing materials that support the exploration or extension of a system. Think about the system while you’re determining materials to add to the play. Think of materials both independently and within the system as a whole.

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