24th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference | June 16 - 18, 2020 | Seattle, WA

Reimagining Chemistry Education Through Systems Thinking

Organizers: Tom Holme, Morrill Professor of Chemistry, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA; Peter Mahaffy, Professor of Chemistry The King’s University, Edmonton, AB, Canada

Recent publications challenge chemistry professionals to transform chemistry so that it addresses emerging global challenges. Common themes in these calls for transformation include the integration of systems thinking into the practice of chemistry and a wholesale re-imagination of chemistry education to more effectively educate scientists and citizens to prepare them for their roles in a rapidly changing planet and society. This technical session will report on and guide efforts to reimagine chemistry education using novel systems thinking approaches throughout educational programs.

Systems thinking emphasizes the interdependence of components of dynamic systems. In the context of chemistry, systems thinking moves beyond isolated consideration of reactions and processes to consider where materials come from, how they are transformed and used, and what happens at the end of their life span. It draws attention to a need to balance the benefits and impacts of chemical substances and the role they play in societal and environmental systems. Applied to STEM education, systems thinking describes approaches that move beyond fragmented and reductionist knowledge of disciplinary content to a more integrated and holistic understanding of the field. A framework for using systems thinking in chemistry education places learners at the center of a system of chemistry education, suggesting tools and approaches to help instructors and curriculum developers see interconnections among the different components that are part of the learning of chemistry. Teaching chemistry through a systems approach challenges students to apply scientific principles to solve real-world problems, demonstrates chemistry’s role as an essential science in finding solutions to global challenges, and prepares future scientists for the collaborative interdisciplinary work required.

Elements of systems thinking have helped to drive developments in green and sustainable chemistry education. The successful application of the principles of green chemistry and engineering, the effective use of tools such as life-cycle analysis, and the development of novel molecular design strategies depends on considering the interconnectedness of reactions and processes with local and global systems. Building students’ capacity to integrate systems thinking into their chemistry problem-solving toolkit can yield new insights and create new opportunities for design and innovation. These strategies and approaches can help to stimulate and inspire further work and research more broadly within chemistry education in promoting and enhancing students’ systems thinking skills. They can also help students develop a deeper and more interconnected understanding of chemistry and related disciplines as a whole.

This session will review and explore the scope and definition of systems thinking in chemistry education, as well as educational research and practice oriented by systems thinking approaches. It will also include a strong focus on the application of systems thinking to green and sustainable chemistry education and seeks to include interdisciplinary perspectives that can drive innovation in this area.