In fall of 2017, I attended the first-ever Camp MSS. Knowing that crosscutting concepts would be something new for both me and my students, I chose Systems and Systems Thinking as my first course for our three-day camp. The one-day course focused on the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) approach to systems. The MSS model defines systems as having boundaries, components, inputs/outputs, interactions, and properties. This course layered on a new feature — black boxes
Back in my classroom, I used the black box model with students while studying forces, and it brought about some rich conversations that may otherwise not have happened. I realized that using the black box approach could be a really effective pre-assessment tool in surfacing what students wanted to know, so I decided to start our space science unit this way.
To kick things off, I broke students into small groups. Each group chose a space system and made a system diagram. They utilized their black box tool for any parts of the system they wanted to know more about. Then I had them share their models with another group.
As I wandered around the room listening in on conversations, I noticed that many of the questions were “big” questions about space. There were very few simple “I can look that up” questions. It was a great way to start a unit, see where my students were in terms of their understanding, and give them a chance to express their ideas.