The Current State of Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education: A Rapid Review (2024)


  1. Navid Ahmed Sadman
  2. Corina E. brown

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Description: Reductionism, specifically methodological reductionism, posits that complex systems or phenomena can be explained by analyzing their simpler parts. It has profoundly shaped modern science and education by emphasizing the study of systems through their constituent parts. However, recent decades have seen a growing challenge to reductionism with the concept of "emergence." Emergence suggests that the interactions among system components produce properties that cannot be solely deduced from the properties of those parts. For instance, a water molecule is not "wet," yet a collection of them forms a puddle, which is wet. In essence, reality is organized in layers, with physical phenomena at different scales largely independent from each other, meaning that the properties of a system's constituents cannot explain the system's properties, i.e., "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.Systems Thinking embodies the shift from reductionism to emergence. A Systems Thinking approach in chemistry education views chemical concepts and phenomena as interconnected components within a larger system. Some chemists, but not all, suggest that Systems Thinking should complement, rather than replace, the reductionist approach. Regardless, Systems Thinking is crucial for addressing complex issues like climate change, which require an integrated understanding of chemical processes. Despite its importance, Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education (STICE) remained relatively underapplied and under-researched until late 2018, when it started rapidly growing after this Journal issued a call for papers to integrate STICE and reimagine chemistry.11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16Sir Ian Chalmers argued that we live in a world where the utility of almost any intervention is tested repeatedly and that the entire body of evidence should be examined rather than relying on any single study in isolation before deciding on its efficacy.17, 18 In the context of STICE, several relevant review articles exist, including a scoping review19, a literature review20, several qualitative content analysis21, 22, 23 and some other types of reviews, 12, 24, 25 among others. However, none provide a systematic synthesis of all pertinent literature. Cooper et al. emphasized that determining whether a new review is justified is essential before launching one.26 Currently, no systematic reviews on Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education (STICE) exist, underscoring the necessity of one to provide a comprehensive understanding of the field, consolidate existing knowledge, and more effectively guide future research and educational practices. Therefore, we decided to address this literature gap by conducting a rapid review, a streamlined form of systematic review that maintains rigorous standards but reduces the resource investment needed.27RESEARCH QUESTIONSA.What arguments have the authors mentioned for implementing STICE? If authors referenced reasonings from other fields, we will include them. This review will focus exclusively on chemistry education literature.B.What potential drawbacks have been identified, and what potential solutions have been put forward?C.What kind of work has been done in the STICE field, and what were their findings? Findings will be categorized and summarized to create an overall narrative.D.What literature gap has been identified by the authors? What literature gaps remain after analyzing the selected pieces?E.What is the future direction of STICE mentioned by the authors?REFERENCES(1)Fang, F. C.; Casadevall, A. Reductionistic and Holistic Science. Infect. Immun. 2011, 79 (4), 1401–1404. - In a Nutshell. Are You an NPC? - YouTube. YouTube. (accessed 2024-06-19).(3)Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell. Sources - Free Will. (accessed 2024-06-19).(4)Philosophy of science - Unification, Reduction, Theory | Britannica. (accessed 2024-06-19).(5)Anderson, P. W. More Is Different. Science 1972, 177 (4047), 393–396.’Connor, T. Emergent Properties. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Zalta, E. N., Ed.; Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2021.(7)Sophia Kivelson; Steven A Kivelson. Defining emergence in physics | npj Quantum Materials. (accessed 2024-06-19).(8)Artime, O.; De Domenico, M. From the Origin of Life to Pandemics: Emergent Phenomena in Complex Systems. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Math. Phys. Eng. Sci. 2022, 380 (2227), 20200410., M. Complexity and the Emergence of Physical Properties. Entropy 2014, 16 (8), 4489–4496., K. G. Problems in Physics with Many Scales of Length. Sci. Am. 1979, 241 (2), 158–179., S.; Flynn, A. B. Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education: Theoretical Challenges and Opportunities. J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96 (12), 2752–2763., M.; York, S.; MacKellar, J. Introduction to Systems Thinking for the Chemistry Education Community. J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96 (12), 2720–2729., P. G.; Matlin, S. A.; Holme, T. A.; MacKellar, J. Systems Thinking for Education about the Molecular Basis of Sustainability. Nat. Sustain. 2019, 2 (5), 362–370., P.; Matlin, S.; Potgieter, M.; Saha, B.; Visa, A.; Cornell, S.; Ho, F.; Talanquer, V.; Wissinger, J.; Zuin, V. Systems Thinking and Sustainability: Converging on Chemistry’s Role in the 21st Century. Chem. Int. 2021, 43 (4), 6–10. Details (Learning Objectives and Strategies for Infusing Systems Thinking into (Post)-Secondary General Chemistry Education). IUPAC | International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. (accessed 2024-05-29).(16)Mahaffy, P. G.; Brush, E. J.; Haack, J. A.; Ho, F. M. Journal of Chemical Education Call for Papers—Special Issue on Reimagining Chemistry Education: Systems Thinking, and Green and Sustainable Chemistry. J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95 (10), 1689–1691. Chalmers. The scandalous failure of scientists to cumulate scientifically - ICML9 / CRICS 7 - Scientific Program. (accessed 2024-06-04).(18)Borenstein, M.; Hedges, L. V.; Higgins, J. P. T.; Rothstein, H. R. Introduction to Meta‐Analysis, 1st ed.; Wiley, 2009., K.; Salta, K.; Koulougliotis, D. Exploring the Connections between Systems Thinking and Green Chemistry in the Context of Chemistry Education: A Scoping Review. Sustain. Chem. Pharm. 2022, 29, 100788., A. S.; Permanasari, A.; Hernani. Review on Education for Sustainable Development: System Thinking for Sustainable Chemistry Education Curriculum. J. Phys. Conf. Ser. 2020, 1521 (4), 042080. Liliasari, B. K. How Does Chemistry of Rare Earth Metals Coordination Complexes Can Enhance System Thinking Ability? A Qualitative Content Analysis Study. Moroc. J. Chem. 2021, Vol. 9, Mor. J. Chem. 9 N°1 (2021) 301-312 Pages. Hadi; Ahmad Mudzakir. Sustainable Chemistry on Rare Earth Elements to Support Systems Thinking: A Qualitative Content Analysis. J. Eng. Sci. Technol. 2024, 19 (2), 61–69.(23)Kisworo, B.; Liliasari, S.; Mudzakir, A. The Analysis of Content Teaching Materials: Identification of Potential for Developing Systems Thinking Skills in Coordination Chemistry. J. Phys. Conf. Ser. 2021, 1806 (1), 012208., A. B.; Orgill, M.; Ho, F. M.; York, S.; Matlin, S. A.; Constable, D. J. C.; Mahaffy, P. G. Future Directions for Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education: Putting the Pieces Together. J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96 (12), 3000–3005., V.; Szozda, A. R. An Educational Framework for Teaching Chemistry Using a Systems Thinking Approach. J. Chem. Educ. 2024, 101 (5), 1785–1792., C.; Booth, A.; Varley-Campbell, J.; Britten, N.; Garside, R. Defining the Process to Literature Searching in Systematic Reviews: A Literature Review of Guidance and Supporting Studies. BMC Med. Res. Methodol. 2018, 18 (1), 85., B.; Klerings, I.; Wagner, G.; Heise, T. L.; Dobrescu, A. I.; Armijo-Olivo, S.; Stratil, J. M.; Persad, E.; Lhachimi, S. K.; Van Noord, M. G.; Mittermayr, T.; Zeeb, H.; Hemkens, L.; Gartlehner, G. Abbreviated Literature Searches Were Viable Alternatives to Comprehensive Searches: A Meta-Epidemiological Study. J. Clin. Epidemiol. 2018, 102, 1–11.

The Current State of Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education: A Rapid Review (2024)
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