Systems And Tools Educational Model

Note: The development of this concept has moved to the Effective Education Project.  
This page is being left for archive purposes.



In the education world there is much discussion and debate over standards. Most of the debate has centered around whether standards should exist, how they should be implemented, and what they should be for existing content areas. But thus far it seems that one of the most important questions has not been asked: What should be taught?

There are several educational theories that discuss this topic. Some of the suggested aims of education are to help students with socialization, improve society, improve morals and ethics, make students good citizens, prepare students for jobs and careers, and give students a well rounded liberal education. All of these aims have merit, but none of these aims, or even the conjunction of these aims attempt to give a full theoretical structure to what should be learned for the whole of the human experience.

The Systems and Tools Educational Model (STEM) attempts to put what can be learned within the whole of human experience into a logical framework that can be used to decide what should be taught. STEM is an overarching framework that should be able to fit all the current aims within it, and all the current content areas. It should be able to continue to fit the needs of humans into the future, as the basic principles can be expanded and applied to new situations. In this sense it is a "deductive" model with some basic premises that everything else can be built from. The model can also be viewed as an extension of systems thinking.

There are two things that should be noted. First, like any mental model, there may be equally valid ways of viewing the world. But none to-date are believed to be as comprehensive as STEM. Also, the debate of what should be taught ultimately boils down to values. This model postulates certain values, but it is possible to utilize much of the theory while holding different values, and thus getting different results. Further, there are some values that this system does not postulate, and depending upon what people believe, this will impact the results of what should be taught. It is hoped that this model will be strong enough that it still can be used for differing values, and that by having an overarching view, it helps people understand their values better.

Also, while this mental model is theoretical, it is critical for it to be a success that it can be applied to the real world, and in its application, it benefits learners. It is the aim of the authors that this model will allow for changes in current educational systems, or possibly the creation of entirely new educational systems.



In order to understand and apply the Systems and Tools Educational Model it is important to understand several terms used:

  • System - Every thing in the universe can be viewed as a system or part of a system (or often both). Further, any idea or intellectual concept can also be viewed as a system or part of a system. A system is basically taking any object, and seeing that it is composed of pieces, and that these pieces have a relationship with each other, and in most systems, interact with each other. For example, the human body is a system of organs that all interact with each other. We live in a political system where we interact with laws, and people acting within the system. Mathematics sometimes can be viewed as a pure system of logic. What the components are of a system, and how they interact varies widely, but the ability to view nearly everything as a system is universal.
  • Tool - A tool is a system or part of a system that people can use to affect a system that they are involved with. While tools may be physical, often they may be intellectual. For example, while math can be viewed as a purely logical system, it also can be a tool to allow a person to exist within the economical and financial system. And money, from the economical system, can be used to buy food which in turn is a tool to help a person to stay alive, and hence help their biological system.
  • Paradigm - The term paradigm, mental model, theory, and theoretical knowledge will be used synonymously. A paradigm is the mental "picture" someone has about how something work, or what something is.
  • Accuracy - One of the central measurements of a paradigm (theory) is how accurate it is, which can be determined through experimentation. Depending upon how accurate peoples mental models are will determine how well they can predict the outcome of their actions within a specific system. For example if someone had an inaccurate paradigm about how a heart-attack works, that person may be afraid that it could be contagious. Sometimes more than one mental model may be able to accurately predict things.
  • Applied Academics - Applied Academics is the concept that theoretical knowledge (mental models) should support practical applications. STEM, for the most part, is an applied academic model that teaches theory (tools) so that a student can apply the theory to practical situations and by understanding the underlying principles be able to accomplish more. One critical piece is that theories should be accurate and appropriate to the action being taken.

Broad Overview of Concept


The Systems and Tools Educational Model is primarily focused on the question of "What should people learn?" and from this derive the answer to "What should education attempt to teach?" The questions of "How do we teach?" that most educational philosophies address may partially be derived from this philosophy, but in general is independent from the focus of the Systems and Tools Educational Model, and thus other educational philosophies may be used in conjunction with this philosophy. Also, while this philosophy attempts to form a comprehensive view of what would be useful for an individual to learn, it is also possible to use subsets of the philosophy in practice.

The core of the philosophy is the model that humans interact within a variety of systems (and further these systems often interact with each other), and that humans have various tools both mental and physical that they can use to influence these systems. The basis of the philosophy is that human should learn about these systems, and learn the tools that will empower them to change these systems. As a mental model this will be able to be understood as a matrix. With systems in one dimension, and tools within the other, and each cell containing if and how a tool can be used to influence a system.

The philosophy has several levels, being a continuum from the theoretical level to the practical applied level.

The general levels of the philosophy are:

  • Broad Overview of Concept
  • Rules to Derive System and Tool Categories of the Philosophy
  • The System and Tool Categories Derived from the Rules
  • Guidelines for determining the Specific Systems and Tools Someone Should Learn
  • The Specific Systems and Tools that Someone Should Learn

Rules to Derive System and Tool Categories of the Model


The following are mental rules, criteria and constraints that should be used when coming up with system and tool categories. These rules exist to make the categories and ultimately the content areas as universal as possible so they may be applied to what any specific individual should learn based upon that specific individual.

Categories must be able to be used with and relevant to every human including:

1. All nationalities, nations, societies and cultures. It should be equally valid for United States learners as well as Iraqi learners, Russian learners, Mexican learners, Japanese learners etc.

2. All IQ and ability levels of students, including students with conditions such as Down Syndrome, autism, etc.

3. All historical time periods. While the categories are for today, they should theoretically been relevant for any period of time since the dawning of humanity, and hopefully be relevant to learners in the future.

4. All roles humans may act within, from CEO to Tribal Hunter to Mother to Politician, etc.

System Categories


The following are some of the categories of systems that can be derived from the generalized rules.

Body’s Health System(s) and Life Systems Every human has a body, and their body works as a system. The better a learner knows how their body works, the better they can do things to help improve the functionality of their body, and keep themselves healthy, improving and extending their lives. Further understanding life systems (biology) in general, humans can help improve the lives of others.

Systems of the Physical World We exist within a physical world, which can be described by physics and chemistry. Gravity happens, and chemical reactions happen on a regular basis. The better we can understand and predict what will happen, the more control we have over our physical realities.

Personal Processes & Systems Every human has habits, routines, and tasks that they perform on a regular basis. By being able to better understand these processes humans can engineer parts of their lives to work better for them.

Belief Systems One can make the argument that what an individual believes, and what their mental models (paradigms) of the world is, is a system in and of itself. And thus these systems too can be understood. Traditionally these system might be called philosophy, theology, etc.

Social Systems Every human interacts with other humans and has different types of relationship with other humans such as parent, child, lover, spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. These relationships affect the person dramatically, and understanding the social structure, norms, and culture that a person lives within allows them to better operate within their social systems, and to possibly help improve their social systems.

Economic System(s) Every human exists within an economic system of trade. Most exist within a monetary system that uses some form of currency such as the dollar, and most also will perform some type of task as a job to earn money and use this money to buy things they want. By understanding the economic system they exist within the learner will be able to better operate within that system.

Technological Systems Human beings have invented technology from the dawning of humanity. From creating a bow and arrow, to creating a computer, humans have devised our own systems that we can use as tools. The better we can learn how to use these technological tools, the better we can use the tools, and the more we learn about how and why the technology works, the better we can fix or improve the technology.

Business Processes & Systems Any organization of humans will have processes that perform the actions of that organization. These systems can potentially be optimized or improved to help the organization better accomplish its goals.

Legal & Political system(s) Every human exists within a legal and political system, whether that be a well defined system such as a democracy or republic, or a system based upon dictatorship, there is a method that laws are created, and there are laws that must be followed, or consequences will happen to an individual. The better someone understands the system they exist within, and what systems can exist, the better that person will be able to operate within their system, and possibly help improve a system.

Ecosystem Every human lives within a larger system of life. This larger system impacts each of us, from the ability to get food & water to how our actions impact our environment which then comes back to impact ourselves.

Artistic Systems and Intangibles While a conscious understanding of our world, and skills to be able to interact with our world is critical. Humankind has always created art, from cave paintings and folk songs to computer graphics and architecture. While the human value may be difficult to define, it is recognized that since art is so important across all categories of human beings, that it should be addressed in education. It is also recognized that there are many parts to art that can not be articulated into a cause and effect or other academic manner. But as a whole we will still classify it as a system, although this philosophy does not dictate that the artistic systems should be attempted to be completely defined.

Tool Categories


The following are some of the categories of tools that humans can apply to the various systems they participate in. These are broad categories of tools, and how much a tool will be useful varies from system to system.

Ethics Every human has faced ethical choices. The choices that the person makes can often have large ramifications on others and themselves. Thinking about ethics and coming up with a personal code of ethics gives people a tool to help them make their decisions in life.

Physical Tools Every technological system that can be operated, is generally a tool in and of itself, and requires physical skill, such as typing on a keyboard for a computer, or driving for a motor vehicle. Further, for those who wish to become technicians or developers (engineers) of technological system, then other tools are required to either fix technology, or to fabricate technology.

To create art one must have proficiency in the tool of that form of art, be it a musical instrument, paint brush, or their hands for a sculpture.

Communication This includes language skills, graphic design, speech, art and every other task of communicating. For every human in every age of existence has needed to be able to communicate to survive and to thrive. Improvements in a person’s ability to communicate, both by sharing ideas and by receiving ideas, will inevitably help improve that person’s life.

Learning While it is important to be able to receive information through communication, there are other methods of learning as well. Also, there are mental tools that exist to help people to retain both knowledge and skills.

Logic & Decision Making This includes deductive and inductive (scientific) reasoning abilities. By having better logical skills any human will be able to better interpret what they learn and create more accurate paradigms that will allow them to more accurately determine the results that will occur from their actions (or inactions).

Mathematical Mental Tools (Numbers) This includes any numbering system, arithmetic, and other mathematical concepts that will give the learner relevant tools that can be used to help the person use and interact with the systems they are part of.

Systems Thinking Every human is part of and interacts with a variety of systems. Most systems can be modeled using common methodologies, such as event/signal flow, mathematics, etc. It must also be understood that all systems humans exist within or interact with, each also affect each other as well as that human. Understanding history can potentially help a person better understand any particular system, and sometimes a broad view is needed to see all the systems together.

Knowledge and Understanding of Events Many events are currently happening (news) that affect humans, and many events have happened (history) that have affected humans. Without awareness of these events a person is not able to know what might affect them. But awareness alone is not enough. The learner must have the other tools listed here, along with accurate mental models so that the learner can understand how and why an event happened, and possibly be able to change future events.

Systems And Tools Matrix


One way to envision how STEM works is to view the systems and tools in a 2 dimensional matrix. Each tool can be used in the different systems (although not every tool is appropriate for every system). By using this basic matrix a person can see an overview of what someone should learn for each tool and system that the tool works with. Here is an example of this 2-D matrix:

Systems and Tools Matrix
System/Tool Beliefs & Ethics Technology Communication Logic Numbers Systems Thinking Events
Physical World
Personal Processes
Social Systems
Business Processes
Legal & Political

While this matrix can give a basic visual for the systems and tools, reality is more complex with more overlaps than this matrix can show. This is because many tools can be used to work with other tools, and many systems contain elements that can be tools for other systems. For instance a technological tool of a computer spreadsheet can assist with mathematical tools to help a person work within an Economic system, and the money earned in this Economic system is then a tool that can be used in most of the other systems. So in reality each system or tool adds another dimension to the matrix. Since visualizing anything beyond 3 dimensions is generally difficult for people, and 3 dimensions itself is often a stretch, the 2 dimensional model is a good working model.

The challenge of using this model to help with instruction, that while the model is 2 dimensional in its simplest form (and multi-dimensional in its more complex form), the transmission and receiving of information is generally linear (one dimensional). Although it is quite possible, if not alway practical, to jump around to any point.

As an example. A traditional school's class, usually teaches a subject in a linear manner. Given that this educational philosophy and model has it so every person should learn both about the systems they interact with, and tools to empower them within these systems, a classes approach could either be to teach about one of the systems, and make sure all relevant tools are included, or teach the relevant tools, and show how they can be used in each system, or both can be done, to give overlap to each topic and come from a different point of view.

At this point in the creation of this educational philosophy, there is not a recommended approach.

Levels of Learning


There are four strata of understanding for any particular system or tool:

  • Awareness - A person has an awareness of a system or a tool, and some understanding of what the system or tool does, and some of the basic components
  • User - A person has skill in being able to utilize a tool or exist within a particular system
  • Technician - A person can fix basic problems within a system using tools
  • Developer - A person can utilize systems and tools to create new systems or subsystems.

Guidelines for determining the Specific Systems and Tools Someone Should Learn


Being an attempt to create a universal paradigm, it is important to be able to pull this to an individual basis. While there are stricter rules for deciding what should be a universal category or tool included in the philosophy (paradigm), what an individual should learn is a more subjective issue, and hence only guidelines are given for determining this. But the following is an attempt to list several factors about what someone should learn.

  • Learning should start first with the self and move to the larger world. It is easier to get "buy in" from people when they can directly relate what they are learning to themselves. Also, when teaching younger children, their minds may not yet have developed to a point where they can conceptualize the entire universe that we live within. It is important that while learning starts with the individual, that it expands to their immediate social system, and then to their local geographic region, then to their state or province, then to their nation, to human kind, to all living kind, to our solar system, our galaxy, and then our universe. It is recognized that all of these are of importance, and as a human race, it is each individuals responsibility to understand the systems of the human condition and be able to use their tools to help humanity and this planet (and possibly even beyond).
  • Learning should be developmentally appropriate. Children develop at different speeds, but statistically our understanding of psychology and neurology and other educational theories give some guidelines about what a person can comprehend at different ages.
  • Learning should be appropriate for the relevance that the knowledge and skills have to the persons life. This goes along with developmental appropriateness, but it should not hinder a person from entering areas that could become relevant to a person after they have learned a set of knowledge and skills. But in the case where knowledge and skills are not immediately relevant, tools must be taught that can help make the initial knowledge and skills be able to become relevant to the person's life.
  • Learning should be ability appropriate. It is recognized that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that those who may be considered mentally or physically disabled in one area, often have greater strengths in another. But inherent non-changeable disabilities need to be recognized, and learning should be of a level that is appropriate for the specific abilities people have. This philosophy also includes strengths individuals may have, and learning should increase to a level of someone's greater ability.
  • Learning should be legally appropriate. Especially when teaching about belief systems, if this philosophy is to be used in a United States Public School, such as a charter school, it is important to not break the separation of church and state OR the freedom of religion of the children and the rights of their parents to teach a religion they choose.
  • Learning should be appropriate for someones interest. This is the most subjective guideline. An individual may not realize that they have interest in something until someone or some event sparks a passion in that person. So as a general guideline, all systems and tools should be taught in the beginning, and as a person develops an interest in specific systems and or tools, that will guide what they specialize in during their later education.
  • Learning should be fun and enjoyable. It is believed (and we hope to test this hypothesis) that when people are enjoying themselves through the learning process, that they will retain the knowledge and skills more, and will continue to participate in their learning more. Enjoyment and interest also often go hand in hand.
  • Learning should be societally and culturally appropriate. This should not be interpreted that controversial ideas should not be taught, or ideas that are outside of societal acceptance should not be taught. Societies can not change and grow without people learning about alternatives to what currently exists. This guideline more has to with making sure things are taught that are relevant to the society. For instance in early 21st Century America, it is important that everyone learns how to drive a car and operate a computer.
  • There are other intangible factors that create value, and hence affect what and individual should learn. For instance, art may be of great value to some individuals, even though they may not get financial reward, or other benefit except internal joy. These intangible factors must be recognized even if they can’t fully be defined.

Comparison to Current California Primary and Secondary Education Standards


The following matrix is an attempt to correlate the traditional "subject areas" of the California educational system, based upon their content standards, into places where these subjects could fit within the Systems and Tools framework. This chart only shows those areas that have published content standards, and thus other subjects such as foreign languages, etc may be taught in many school systems, but there currently are no uniform content standards for California.

While many of the squares can be filled by current educational standards, as can be seen by the grid, where things fit is a mix-match of squares, and some are not filled at all. Following the philosophy set out in this document could give more consistency to how all of education works with each other. Also, many of the squares that are filled are not taught to everyone, and those that are taught, may only brush over some topics.

Systems and Tools Matrix
Ethics Physical Tools Communication Logic Numbers Systems Thinking Events
Health Systems P.E. P.E., Life Sciences P.E. Life Sciences Life Sciences Life Sciences, P.E. Life Sciences
Physical World Systems Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences, Investigation and Experimentation, Geometry and Trigonometry Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences, Investigation and Experimentation Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences, Investigation and Experimentation, Geometry Earth Sciences
Personal Processes P.E.
Belief Systems English Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, Investigation and Experimentation Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, Investigation and Experimentation Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, Investigation and Experimentation History
Social Systems Social Science English English, Visual and Performing Arts Statistics History History
Economic Career Technical Education Career Technical Education Economics Economics, Career Technical Education, Statistics Economics History
Technological Career Technical Education Career Technical Education English, Career Technical Education Career Technical Education Career Technical Education, Algebra Career Technical Education History
Business Processes Career Technical Education Career Technical Education Career Technical Education Career Technical Education Career Technical Education, Statistics Career Technical Education Career Technical Education
Legal & Political American Government American Government, History
Ecological Biology
Artistic Art, Music Art, Music Art, Music, History

Comparison to the SCANS Competencies


The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) was formed to determine what schools should teach in order to prepare students for work in the 21st century. They created a list of 5 competencies and 3 foundations.

Specific Curriculum


While it is hoped that the Systems and Tools Educational Philosophy will be used in many curriculums and possibly be used throughout an entire educational system. It is recognized that this is an extremely large endeavor, and so instead a small group of curriculums will initially be created to demonstrate how this Educational Philosophy can be applied. This initial project is called the Public Pupil Pizza Project.

See also