IUPAC and IOCD Support STICE Project
Peter Mahaffy and Stephen Matlin are co-chairs of a Task Group for a IUPAC project on systems
thinking into chemistry education, which is co-funded by IOCD.
This project brings together a distinguished task force of global chemistry and chemistry education
leaders to articulate learning objectives for infusing systems thinking and sustainability
considerations into the formal teaching of chemistry, with a primary focus on the gate-keeper
general chemistry course at the post-secondary level. The project group will also suggest strategies
to guide the use of these learning objectives in the design of curriculum and selection of engaging
pedagogies. Broad consultation with global chemistry educators is being carried out to explore the
most effective ways to move toward fuller infusion of systems thinking. The project group proposes
to profile findings at the 2019 World
Chemistry Congress in Paris
during the IUPAC Centenary, in keeping with the strong emphasis at
the IUPAC Centenary on highlighting ways for chemistry to contribute to solutions to present and
future global challenges.
Members of the Task Group include:
- Jan Apotheker
- Suzanne Boniface
- Robert B. Bucat
- Yehudit Judy Dori
- Temechegn Engida
- Alison Flynn
- Jonathan Forman
- Felix M. Ho
- Tom Holme
- Jorge G. Ibáńez-Cornejo
- Rachel Mamlok-Naaman
- Liliana L. Mammino
- MaryKay Orgill
- Tina Overton
- Ting-Kueh Soon
- Vicente Talanquer
- Marcy Towns
- Jennifer MacKellar
Objectives and Strategies for Infusing Systems Thinking into (Post)-Secondary General Chemistry
Education. IUPAC Project No. 2017-010-1-050. International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry,
Research Triangle Park, NC 2017.
In a preliminary analysis, published in Nature Chemistry Reviews and
discussed at the International Conference on Chemistry Education in
Sydney in July 2018, a framework was developed for examination of components in systems thinking
applied to chemistry education. This framework comprises three nodes that are centred on the
- The learner systems node explores and describes the processes at work for learners, which
include taxonomies of learning domains, learning theories, learning progressions, models for the
phases of memory, the transition from rote to meaningful learning and social contexts for
- The chemistry teaching and learning node focuses on features of learning processes
applied to the unique challenges of learning chemistry. These include the use of pedagogical
content knowledge; analysis of how the intended curriculum is enacted, assessed, learned and
applied; and student learning outcomes that include responsibility for the safe and sustainable
use of chemicals, chemical reactions and technologies.
- The earth and societal systems node orients chemistry education toward meeting societal
and environmental needs articulated in initiatives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals
and descriptions of the earth's planetary boundaries. Educational systems to address the
interface of chemistry with earth and societal systems include green chemistry and
sustainability education, and use tools such as life cycle analysis.
- P. G. Mahaffy, A. Krief, H.
Hopf, G. Mehta, S. A. Matlin. Reorienting chemistry education through systems thinking.
Nature Reviews Chemistry 2018, 2, 1-3. doi:10.1038/s41570.018.0126.
P. G. Mahaffy,S. A. Matlin. Seeing the forest while in the trees: systems thinking in science
education. Keynote presentation at the 25th International Conference on Chemistry
Education, Sydney, 10-14 July 2018.
STICE Activities and Outputs
Very little work had hitherto been done on the incorporation of systems thinking in chemistry
education. The STICE project group has explored what can be learned from other disciplines which
have embraced a systems approach, such as biology and engineering, as well as considering the
specific characteristics of chemistry and the ways that systems thinking can enhance learning and
contribute to achieving sustainability goals.
A paper by members of the core STICE group discusses the central role of chemistry in providing the
molecular basis of sustainability. It also presents a new visualization tool – the
systems-oriented concept map extension (SOCME) to assist educators and learners to explore the
boundaries of systems and sub-systems that are relevant to their courses.
- P.G. Mahaffy, S. A. Matlin, T. A. Holme, J. MacKellar. A systems thinking framework for
educating about the molecular basis of sustainability. Nature Sustainability
2019, in the press.
As a major output of the project and to draw in relevant education experience from across the word,
the STICE project arranged with the Journal of Chemical Education
to produce a Special
of the Journal. A call for papers was published in 2018 and the Special Issue
expected to appear by the end of 2019. It will include several dozen papers, including some from the
core STICE project group.