Compass Tool for Capstone

“Systems thinking enables educators to help their students develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to participate in a complex and interdependent world.” (Mike Johnstone – Compass Education)

One of the many things that I love about teaching Capstone Seminar is that the course requirements push students to think about problems from a systems perspective – meaning they need to always consider a variety of perspectives through different lenses, to try to create a real life solution, resolution or conclusion. This is leaps and bounds ahead of the traditional, linear approach to solving problems.

So what is a system? According to Donella H. Meadows, scientist, writer and pioneer of sustainable systems thinking, a “system is a set of things – people, cells, molecules, or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.” (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, 2). Compass Education leader, Mike Johnstone states,  “Systems are groups of discrete elements that work together to make a whole.” Both of these definitions and this way of thinking is very interesting but how exactly does it translate to a classroom lesson? What really connected systems thinking to Capstone for me was the Compass Tool.

Compass Tool

With the Compass tool students can write their topic/problem/issue/question in the middle and then start mind mapping causes and effects under each quadrant. Not every cause requires an effect and vice-versa. This activity can be taken a step further by using lines and arrow to show the relationships between each cause and effect. You might end up with something like this (courtesy of my awesome Capstone students):

Bioaccumulation in FishCompassCompass - Dam for hydroelectricity

The Compass tool placed side by side with the Lenses Graphic Organizer helps to demonstrate how the two are connected more clearly.

Lenses Graphic Organizer & Compass

Why bother with the Compass tool if we already have the handy Lenses Graphic Organizer for students to plot out their ideas? I believe the Compass tool adds another layer of understanding to the complexity of an issue, especially when students need to come back together after their individual research to think of a solution. By creating causal connections between the perspectives (nodes) that are included under each lens the students can start to visualize which nodes are good leverage points for creating change and subsequently being good starting points for possible solutions that they can research further.

When I started my course, we began with a broad introduction to the course theme: Social Justice. I approached this theme using the UN Sustainable Development Goals and had students map out the goals on the Compass Tool. This was followed with the same activity but this time putting an actual interdisciplinary problem (many of these are specific to Guadalajara and Mexico where I teach and should be adjusted according to students’ ares) at the heart of the compass. The full lesson and explanation can be found here. This Compass tool has now become common vocabulary in our classroom and students have used it to brainstorm a way into a topic that they are interested in with the Individual Written Argument.