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.

K-12 STEM Education

Hanover Research- District Administrative Practices. (October 2011). K-12 STEM Education Overview. Washington, DC

What does STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) education look like in the K-12 setting? Far too often schools place “math and science” in their name but lack the understanding of what it truly means to be a STEM based institution. I must admit I have used science and math projects in my classroom and believed I was fulfilling the STEM mission. With a little research under my belt I am beginning to realize that there is a far more specific formula to STEM education.

Hanover Research’s (2011) article titled K-12 STEM Education Overview provided a broad synopsis of the multiple aspects of K-12 STEM education in the United States. This article is a great place to start and gives an overview of STEM curriculum at the K-12 level. The purpose of the article is to bring attention to the “poor performance of American students in the vital fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” which has led to the STEM reform movement (Hanover Research, 2011, p. 5). With an obvious necessity for STEM awareness and education at the K-12 level, Hanover Research (2011) begins by exploring the numerous definitions of STEM education, with the overarching idea that STEM education is the movement toward creating a work-force that is proficient and literate in science, technology, engineering, and math by cultivating a deeper understanding of each subject. Once a definition is established, Hanover Research goes into greater depth of the structure of STEM curriculum. The research gives a broad overview of best practices in STEM program communications, structure, implementation, professional development, and sustainability.

The methods used to collect and analyze data in this article are quite vague and the data provides a general idea of the components of STEM education and the structure that has worked at successful schools in the United States. Hanover Research collects data about STEM programs by reviewing scholarly articles, collecting data from national and state organizations, analyzing past surveys of STEM-focused schools, and utilizing sources who studied and collected data on Model STEM school programs across the country. With this being said, the methods of data collection consist of an examination of previously conducted studies by a wide rage of scholars on the topic of STEM education.

Through their research, Hanover Research (2011) discovered that STEM education is a necessity in the United States education system in order to assist in the improvement of math and science test scores, where only approximately one-third of students are performing at a proficient level. This article also gives an outline, which has been effective at performing STEM schools across the country, for what is required in order to create a STEM school that “cultivate(s) soft skills for scientific inquiry and problem-solving skills,” while creating a “STEM-literate citizenry” (Hanover Research, 2011, p. 2). If there goals are to be achieved, the article determined that schools must establish the following items: STEM goals, STEM subjects and skills, communication of the importance of STEM education with the community, implementation of the program (program structure, instructional techniques, curriculum, student motivation, high-quality STEM teachers), program sustainability, and professional development. Overall, there is a format that schools must follow in order to create a sustainable and effective STEM school.

The author organized the work in a coherent way, allowing the reader to easily navigate through the topics covered. First, the author gives a brief overview of the subject being covered, which includes: an executive summary, STEM definitions, summary of best practices, and an overview of professional development opportunities and the model programs that are analyzed at the end of the article. Second, the author dives into the meat of the article by discussing all of the topics summarized at the beginning of the article in a more in-depth manner. Lastly, the author discusses how model schools utilize the components of STEM school infrastructure discussed throughout. In summary, the organization of the article is logical and progresses naturally from smaller topics of describing what a STEM program needs, into a larger all-inclusive topic of model STEM programs. The one piece that I believe is lacking is a section that describes the research methods that are utilized to collect the data summarized in the article.

This research paper serves to provide an overview of K-12 STEM education. The arguments for STEM education and STEM structures are supported by strong resources, however, the depth of the article is lacking, leaving a lot to be desired. Although there are multiple reputable sources utilized, but unfortunately few in-depth discussions about STEM education, making it more of a starting point for research instead of a resource that can be used to instill change. In reality, this article can be used to begin creating an outline for what a functioning STEM program looks like. More specifically, an overview of research completed on STEM practices in the schools discussed would be helpful. For example, specific research concluding that specific aspects of STEM educational practices are useful and have data to provide proof of results. Also, a discussion of best practices to analyze the effectiveness of a STEM program would assist me in future research. A powerful conclusion to this article could be an overall cumulative report of what an ideal STEM model would look with strong statistical data provided as support.

Hanover Research (2011) utilized secondary data analysis in order to explore the different components of STEM education. The research group referred to research conducted by reputable sources, such as government agencies, national agencies, state agencies, and universities. There is a wide array of qualitative (surveys and interviews) and quantitative methodologies referenced throughout the work.

I feel the broadness of this article has created more questions than it has answers. I want to begin analyzing studies that have been completed on “successful” STEM schools across the county. I want to discover the best methods for determining the success of a STEM school, which I can later use to determine the efficacy of my own STEM program. I want to strengthen my understanding of each of the pieces of STEM programs and determine if there are other parts that must be included in the infrastructure of an effective STEM school structure. Overall, I have many ideas that I would like to continue to research, develop an understanding of, and collect data on to support my findings.




 Hanover Research- District Administrative Practices. (October 2011). K-12 STEM Education Overview. Washington, DC