How fifth-grade English learners engage in systems thinking using computational models

Alison Haas, Scott E. Grapin, Daniel Wendel, Lorena Llosa, Okhee Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was to investigate how computational modeling promotes systems thinking for English Learners (ELs) in fifth-grade science instruction. Individual student interviews were conducted with nine ELs about computational models of landfill bottle systems they had developed as part of a physical science unit. We found evidence of student engagement in four systems thinking practices. Students used data produced by their models to investigate the landfill bottle system as a whole (Practice 1). Students identified agents and their relationships in the system (Practice 2). Students thought in levels, shuttling between the agent and aggregate levels (Practice 3). However, while students could think in levels to develop their models, they struggled to engage in this practice when presented with novel scenarios (e.g., open vs. closed system). Finally, students communicated information about the system using multiple modalities and less-than-perfect English (Practice 4). Overall, these findings suggest that integrating computational modeling into standards-aligned science instruction can provide a rich context for fostering systems thinking among linguistically diverse elementary students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number47
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Computational modeling
  • English learners
  • Systems thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Modeling and Simulation


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