DynamiQueST Spotlights System Dynamics

Local secondary school students visit campus for annual event
March 23, 2017

On March 17, WPI students weren’t the only ones learning by doing—students from several secondary schools visited campus to participate in the hands-on, interactive event, DynamiQueST.

Sponsored by Creative Learning Exchange (CLE), the annual event aims to help students further their understanding of system dynamics through simulations, discussions with their peers, and coaching from system dynamics professionals and professors. If they've been working on a project that embodies system dynamics or systems thinking, they can bring it to DynamiQueST to be viewed and discussed by teachers, industry experts, and fellow students.

Oleg Pavlov

“It isn’t like a science fair,” CLE executive director Lees Stuntz was quick to point out, gesturing toward the poster boards several students were carrying into Odeum B. “We’ve got 18 posters this year, and each student’s work will be constructively coached by a system dynamics expert.” Encouragement is an essential part of DynamiQueST, with the aim of helping students better understand how to study concepts that change over time through helpful, constructive feedback and detailed explanations.

WPI’s System Dynamics program, part of the Social Science & Policy Studies department, has roots at MIT, the birthplace of system dynamics, and is one of the first and only graduate programs on the topic. It has hosted DynamiQueST in years past, and this year they welcomed nearly 70 students and their teachers to campus for the annual day-long event. “WPI is a highly recognized and respected center for system dynamics,” says associate professor Oleg Pavlov, who also served as a coach for student work this year. “Two of our professors, Mike Radzicki and Khalid Saeed, have also served as past presidents of the System Dynamics Society.”

“The world needs more system dynamics,” Stuntz said, “and we’re grateful to WPI for providing their resources and expertise of faculty to help students learn.”

The day began with the World Climate Simulation role-playing exercise from MIT that allows students to experience what it’s like to be part of an international negotiations meeting. The exercise is regularly used with college students and working professionals, but this was one of the first times it was used with high school students. Following the exercise was the opportunity for students to present their work to attendees and receive feedback; the concluding event was a debriefing of the earlier simulation, and a discussion on how to use critical thinking and practical approaches to solve other problems.

Students participate in the World Climate Simulation.

Some schools and their representatives, like Greg Orpen from the Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsborough, have been attending DynamiQueST for years, but for others, this was their first time.

Todd Sumner of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School attended the event to see if it would be something more students from his school could attend in the future. “We have a skills-based curriculum, and systems thinking is one of the essential skills we expect students to master by graduation,” he explained. “So I’m scouting things out, seeing if it’d be a good fit for them.”

Orpen, on the other hand, is no stranger to DynamiQueST and the effect it can have on students. “[DynamiQueST] gives the kids a heightened sense of empowerment,” he said. “Climate change and other big topics can make someone feel discouraged, but this shows that there’s also reason for optimism, and that things can change through collaboration and negotiation.”

For Zach Harrison, a student at Innovation Academy Charter School, participating in this year’s DynamiQueST was a can’t-miss opportunity after having had the chance to visit the United Nations and get a glimpse of a General Assembly. “I love what we’re doing here,” he said. “This is an opportunity to learn more, and it’s great that we’re able to simulate a real-world event.”

- By Allison Racicot