Understanding the earth systems: Expressions of dynamic and cyclic thinking among university students

Or Batzri, Orit Ben Zvi Assaraf, Carmit Cohen, Nir Orion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In this two-part study, we examine undergraduate university students’ expression of two important system thinking characteristics—dynamic thinking and cyclic thinking—focusing particularly on students of geology. The study was conducted using an Earth systems questionnaire designed to elicit and reflect either dynamic or cyclic thinking. The study’s first part was quantitative. Its population consisted of a research group (223 students majoring in geology or physical geography) and a control group (312 students with no background in geology). The students were asked to rate their agreement with each statement on a Likert scale. Overall, the students in the research group expressed higher levels of dynamic thinking than those in the control group. The geology students showed relatively strong dynamic thinking toward the geosphere and hydrosphere, but not the biosphere. In cyclic thinking, their levels were significantly higher for all Earth systems, suggesting a connection between learning about different cycles in Earth systems, developing cyclic thinking and applying it to other Earth cycles. The second part was qualitative and administered only to the students who majored in geology. They were asked to freely explain their answers to the questionnaire’s statements. Our aim was to identify recurring patterns in how these students express their dynamic and cyclic thinking. Their explanations were given to four experts in the field of Earth science, who then presented, in a semi-structured interview, the recurring characteristics of dynamic thinking that they found in the students’ explanations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-775
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Science Education and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Earth system
  • Geoscience education
  • Higher education
  • System thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering (all)


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