Student Learning of Complex Earth Systems: Conceptual Frameworks of Earth Systems and Instructional Design Academic Article uri icon


  • Nat. Assoc. Geosci. Teachers. Engaging students in authentic problem solving concerning environmental issues in near-surface complex Earth systems involves both developing student conceptualization of Earth as a system and applying that scientific knowledge using techniques that model those used by professionals. In this first paper of a two-part series, we review the state of the geoscience education research field related to systems thinking in the context of Earth systems. The purpose of this study is to build on previous syntheses by conducting a configurative literature review that addresses the following research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of studies that address systems thinking in the context of Earth systems? (2) What conceptual frameworks for systems are present in the geoscience education research literature on systems thinking in the context of Earth systems? (3) How are these conceptual frameworks operationalized in research and educational interventions aimed at understanding and supporting systems thinking in the context of Earth systems? Twenty-seven papers met inclusion and exclusion criteria. Content analysis was conducted on each of these papers, and systems ideas were analyzed using the constant comparative method. Four conceptual frameworks were identified: Earth systems perspective, Earth systems thinking skills, complexity sciences, and authentic complex Earth and environmental systems. This study is, to our knowledge, the first systematic review in this area and allows a more consistent comparison of new findings with previous work. It also facilitates strengthening connections with cognitive science and education research literature related to systems thinking and complex systems.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Geoscience Education

altmetric score

  • 2.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Scherer, H. H., Holder, L., & Herbert, B.

citation count

  • 22

complete list of authors

  • Scherer, Hannah H||Holder, Lauren||Herbert, Bruce

publication date

  • January 2017