Environmental Systems

Teacher: Christopher DiCarlo
Extra Help: Monday 3:00 - 4:00 PM or by appointment.    


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Course Overview

Instructor Contact Info:

Christopher DiCarlo  

Extra Help: Monday 3:00 - 4:00 PM or by appointment.     

cdicarlo@innovationcharter.org  (If you would prefer to call, please leave a message with the main office and ask them to notify me by email.  I will return your call as soon as possible.)

Essential Questions:

How can we use systems thinking tools to deepen our understanding of complex environmental systems?

What does sustainability mean?

How can we bring our use of natural resources into balance?

Semester Overview:  

This class will examine three environmental systems: land, air and sea.  For each of these topics, we will use systems thinking tools such as causal loop diagrams, behavior over time graphs, and computer modeling to get a better understanding of how the system works.  We will seek to identify key components that have a strong influence over the behavior of the system, and work to find ways that we can make each of these systems more sustainable.  

Assessment Overview/Strands:

Final grades for this course will be a combination of the four following strands:

  1. Enduring Understanding: (30%)   Often the most innovative advances in science and technology depend on linking together ideas from more than one field.  Scientists must have deep knowledge and an understanding of how multiple ideas are related.  Enduring understanding will assess students’ ability to work with and extend the ideas presented in class.

  2. Modeling: (30%) Models are useful tools to enhance scientific literacy.  Students can build physical models, computer simulations, or create conceptual models/maps to represent processes or principles that exist in the natural world.

  3. Experimentation: (20%) Science is built upon a foundation of experiments.  Students are assessed on the essential habits of experimentation in a wide variety of contexts:  observing, measuring, recording, analyzing, and forming evidence-based conclusions.

  4. Work Habits: (20%) The Work Habits strand reflects the effort students have put into completing homework, studying regularly, and working in class. Students with strong work habits grades are putting consistent, effective effort into their schoolwork.

Student Expectations:

  1. Students are expected to show respect for themselves, their peers, the instructor, guests, class materials and equipment.

  2. Students are expected to contribute to a positive learning environment in the class.

  3. Students are expected to adhere to all safety rules in the class.

  4. Students are expected to bring a pencil or pen, 3-ring binder with notes, and agenda book, to every class.

Absence Policy:

If you are absent, it is your responsibility to contact me or your classmates to find out what work was assigned in your absence.  Upon return to class, please submit work that was due while you were out.

Work assigned while you were out will be due at the following class meeting.  Due dates for work that was assigned prior to your absence will not be changed unless approved by the instructor.  

Honors Policy:

Students may elect to take this class for honors credit.  Honors students will be expected to extend  computer models that make predictions and policy recommendations.

Late Work Policy:

All students are expected to complete work in a timely manner.  Developing the mindset and skills to complete work on time will benefit students throughout high school, college, and in future careers.

The following late policy has been adopted by all classes at IACS:

  • Students may request extensions to assignments with an email sent at least 24 hours prior to the class in which the work is due.  Extensions may be discussed in person, but will not be granted without a written request.  Extensions will be granted at the discretion of the teacher and may be rejected if class time is not used effectively by the student.  Work completed under an extension will receive no late penalty.

  • If work is not completed on time, the student must make arrangements with the teacher within 24 hours after class in which the work is due.   A chance to make up the work may be granted to the student at the teacher’s discretion.  Make up work can be submitted no later than 1 week from the original due date.  The work habits grade for make up work will be reduced by 20% for each weekday it is late.  All other strands will be graded without penalty.

  • Any work that is not completed within the 1 week window will receive a zero in all strands.

Major Units of Study:


We will start out with a look at Easter Island, a small isolated island in the middle of the Pacific to see what can happen when we fail to use limited resources responsibly.

  • What do systems thinkers do?

  • Population growth

  • Easter Island

  • Tragedy of the commons


Next we will learn about the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.  We will also evaluate some of the efforts that have been made to address this problem.

  • Stock vs flow - Department store model

  • CO2 bathtub model

  • Carbon cycle


Finally we will explore the problems facing coastal fisheries to understand the challenges that arise when financial incentives encourage individuals to overuse a limited resource.

  • Predator prey relationships in the sea

  • Coral bleaching

  • Water Temperature Lab

  • FishBanks

Independent Modeling Project

The course will culminate in a final project in which students will apply their understanding of systems to either extend prior topics or explore topics not addressed in the first three units. Students will choose a system to analyze in more depth.  Students will research the underlying components of the system and create a computer model.  


Behavior Over Time Graphs, Causal Loop Diagrams, Computer Models, Written Explanations