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Fifth Grade Content Connection Sample: Systemic Thinking

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Systemic thinking entails seeing the whole in addition to the parts and their interrelationships. Fifth grade students are expected to identify the structures within and across content areas and explain how those structures work in an interconnected fashion. Students examine the smaller parts within a structure to understand how they work together to create increasingly more complex systems of interaction. This work is an extension of the work on interactions, visual and spatial thinking, and systems and structures.

Systemic thinking can connect all 10 content areas as detailed below.

Comprehensive Health and Physical Education

In comprehensive health and physical education, systemic thinking involves viewing one’s body and the environment as systems with interconnected parts and structures. Students apply systemic thinking by demonstrating an understanding of structures within games such as rules and strategies. Systemic thinking is also visible when studying the physiology and anatomy of the body. Systemic thinking in comprehensive health and physical education enables students to understand the importance of the parts as well as the whole, in the body and community.

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Comprehensive Health

Physical Education


In dance, systemic thinking is using shapes, spatial settings, proportions and aesthetic qualities to plan and create a dance work. Using a sketch before creating a group dance work is one preliminary systemic process a learner can employ for successful dance creation.

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Drama and Theatre Arts

In drama and theatre arts, systemic thinking involves identifying the interactions and roles of each aspect of the theatre. An example of systemic thinking in theatre is developing an understanding of how technical theater aspects can make interactions believable such as the interaction between characters, scenes, environments, and eras.

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In mathematics, systemic thinking is related to the mathematical practice of looking for and making use of structure. For example, the underlying structure of the place value system is powers of ten. Fifth graders explore a variety of patterns to develop systemic thinking.

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In music, systemic thinking is visible in the study and creation of musical systems and interrelationships. Creating four-part vocal and/or instrumental round by interacting with the conductor is a way to demonstrate knowledge of musical systems. A fifth grader’s ability to demonstrate a working knowledge of how musical elements, conductors and performers work together is the basic application of systemic thinking in music.

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Reading, Writing, and Communicating

In reading, writing and communicating, systemic thinking is used to see the relationships of parts to a whole. For example, students recognize how tone, word choice, and point of view affect written work such as in poetry.

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In science, systemic thinking involves examining how individual parts combine and interact to influence the functioning of a system. Understanding individual parts of a system does not necessarily lead to an understanding of the system as a whole. For example, a student can study the structure and function of the stomach, but that will not enable them to understand the entire digestive system.

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Social Studies

In social studies, systemic thinking examines the structures of how humans interact with each other and the environment. Each discipline provides a different lens in order to paint a picture of the complex connections in the world. For example, civics organizes the political and human structures that support human interaction, and geography defines physical systems and how they influence human activity. Understanding the systems and structures of social studies provides an understanding of context, interconnectedness, and the operation of society.

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Visual Arts

In visual arts, systemic thinking involves the methods and planning processes an artist uses to create a work of art. Using a sketch or model before creating a work of art is one preliminary systemic process a learner can employ for successful artwork creation.

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World Languages

In world languages, systemic thinking occurs when age-appropriate writing and publishing processes are used to demonstrate cultural knowledge and language skill. Writing process strategies include prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

Standards Pages

Summary Document: All standards pages for systemic thinking