Barriers to Introducing System Dynamics in K-12 STEM Curriculum

Skaza H., Crippen, K. J., & Carroll, K. R. (2013). Teachers’ barriers to introducing system dynamics in K-12 STEM curriculum. System Dynamics Review, 29(3), 157-169.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is required in order to prepare students for fast-paced 21st century careers but best STEM teaching practices have yet to be fully developed. One technique currently being studied is system dynamic modeling that “provides a valuable means for helping students think about complex problems” (Skaza, Crippen, & Carroll, 2013, p. 158). System dynamics offers a means of thinking and modeling that allows students to begin making connections between variables. If system dynamics modeling gives students greater access to STEM curriculum, I believe we need to discover the barriers of program implementation and actively begin breaking them down.

Skaza, Crippen, and Carroll analyzed current barriers to introducing system dynamics into K-12 STEM curriculum in their 2013 article. The authors analyze three research questions by means of a mixed-method approach. The questions are as follows;

  1. How are teachers currently using system dynamics simulations and stock and flow models that were already a part of their adopted curriculum?
  2. For teachers who are not using the simulations, what barriers persist to their classroom implementation?
  3. What is the level of teachers’ understanding of the system dynamics stock and flow modeling language and how might that be influencing the classroom use of system dynamics tools? (p. 158)

The organization of the article is clear, allowing the reader to easily progress through the study of ‘system dynamics.’ Structurally, the article begins with an introduction, which includes the main research questions addressed in the remaining sections. After the introduction there is a review of related literature, allowing the reader to get a better view of previous findings by other scholars. The literature review contains relevant topics that allow for a broader examination of the research topic.  Next, the authors thoroughly cover the context for the investigation, methods used, results, discussions section, and final remarks and future research. As a whole, the organization of the article is all-inclusive and is very coherent.

Skaza et al. (2013) addressed a concept that has previously been studied by other educational researchers. According to the authors, a “larger base of empirical research is needed” (p. 159) in regards to system dynamics in order to begin fully utilizing them in most K-12 classrooms. Overall, the study found that only 2.8% of the educators completed the curriculum, which is equivalent to two participants. After this discovery, the researchers analyzed the major barriers such as lack of access to the technology, low teacher efficacy, and not enough professional development support. Outcomes for the study will allow for future research to address the major barriers discussed.

Within the article, Skaza et al. (2013) analyze systems thinking and system dynamics modeling as means for giving improved access to STEM curriculum, particularly to minority students. Systems thinking and system dynamics modeling “is consistent with recent calls for educational reform that focuses on active learning strategies, teaching for transfer to new problems, as well as intending for creativity and innovation as key outcomes” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 157). Thus, this study is relevant to the overall consensus of the United States’ push towards effective STEM education.

In regards to theoretical frameworks, “the theoretical framework for this revision includes system and system models as crosscutting concepts and as a component of Scientific and Engineering Practice” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 157).  As a whole the authors stay true to the framework making the article cohesive and appropriate.

Within the methods section, the authors discuss the mixed-method approach to data collection that is used in the quest to answer the three research questions. The “research method involved a single-group, mixed-method (quantitative-qualitative) design consisting of two phases: a survey followed by a focus group” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 160). Participants for this study were selected from 40 high schools and consisted of 160 teachers, while the focus group was made up of four participants. In summary, the survey consisted of 17 questions containing both qualitative and quantitative measures. Also, the focus group contributed valuable support for the survey findings, which could be made stronger by increasing the number of focus group participants.

The researchers analyzed the surveys by looking at both qualitative and quantitative data, while using the focus group information to add depth to the survey findings. If another researcher wanted to replicate the analysis piece of this research, there is adequate information to do so. The analysis section fully describes the steps taken by the researcher and allows for replication due to the specifics of how data was analyzed in both the surveys and focus group. Overall, the researchers determined the number of participants who actually implemented the system dynamics concept into their classroom and if teachers failed to implement, the researchers worked to uncover the barriers to implementation.

As far as the findings are concerned, they are based on a thorough understanding of the data. By this I mean that the researchers analyzed the survey information, gained knowledge, and then used the focus group to either confirm or deny these findings. Also, there were multiple questions within each category on the survey helping gain more accurate information. For example, the survey asked teachers to provide proof of understanding the concepts by means of essay answers. So, if a teacher said that unavailable technology was their barrier yet they were unable to describe a science concept, the researchers could conclude that teacher efficacy is also an issue. The researchers discovered that the major barriers to using system modeling in the classroom is technology, yet the focus group and survey essay answers told a different story of potential teacher efficacy problems. Thus, I believe that the barriers are accurately captured, which can in turn lead to potential new research or action.

As an educator, I have experienced the push towards technology use in the classrooms. I believe that this thrust is necessary and important towards the growth of our students and the necessity to bring students into the 21st century. Our goal is to help students use technology to problem solve and work towards higher understandings but what happens when teachers don’t fully understand how to integrate technology into the classroom? Many educators that I have encountered feel uneasy about technology, thus do not make an effort to use it to enhance the learning environment. With this being said, our first move towards incorporating system dynamics modeling into the classroom, in order to enhance STEM understandings, is ensuring that all of our educators and future educators are technologically competent.




Skaza H., Crippen, K. J., & Carroll, K. R. (2013). Teachers’ barriers to introducing system dynamics in K-12 STEM curriculum. System Dynamics Review, 29(3), 157-169.

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