Investigating The Conflict in Jerusalem Through the Lense of the Compass

EMIS mission statement

When we set out on the Jerusalem Week project at the Eastern Mediterranean International School (EMIS), we wanted to gain real life experience of the issues faced on a daily basis in the city of Jerusalem- one of the most contested, fought over, complex and desired cities in the world. The issues surrounding this city woven with culture, religion, politics, history, economic depravity, mistrust, and peppered with a dose of unhealthy international press, seemed too big to tackle from the outside in. With our student body comprising of Israelis, Palestinians and a representation of forty-two other nationalities, how were we going to tackle and explore these issues without emotional ties or a one-lens perspective?

Using the tool of the Compass helped to deepen my students’ understanding of the complex systems that exist within the walls of the Old City alone and how these, in turn, affect the entire ecosystem of Jerusalem.

Exploring the ecosystem of Jerusalem using the Compass model.

Each group was given a different topic to explore during their investigation day, which the students had to plan and create themselves. My group explored the concept of ‘Boarders and the Green Line’, which looked at the notion what the Green line really means, where is lies, what is beyond it, how can we tackle the concept of ‘settlements’ or the displacement of people from both sides. What is a boarder and what is a settler. We took a tour of the Green Line and visited a Settler’s house in Silwan, an Arab town in East Jerusalem. Other groups explored ‘Sovereignty’ or ‘Holy Sites’, ‘Municipality’ or ‘Education.’ Using the Compass as a pre-investigative tool, in hindsight, would have deepened the learning further but instead I used it as a reflective tool to demonstrate to the students that there is not a ready-made solution to such a complex issue.

Exploring the municipality strike using the Compass model.

Exploring sovereignty using the Compass model.

Many of the conversations that arose from this project week concerned perspective and using the notion of Systems Thinking, we started to explore the Iceberg as a model for understanding that the final event reaches down to the deep depths of people’s long standing mental models and the difficulty in breaking a structure that has been held so firmly in place for so long. I combined this with some mindfulness exercises that asked the students to take themselves back to a conversation they had experienced during their week in Jerusalem and asking them to see it first from their perspective and why they responded the way they did and then, following some work on the importance of understanding shifts in perspective, we started to explore why we hold these perspectives. Suddenly, the conversations deepened, they started to understand that in order to have any hope of finding solutions to some of these ongoing issues, we would have to look at the factors involved from different perspectives.

Each group took one issue they found interesting during Jerusalem week and used the Compass to explore it. How did it affect the nature and environment of the city? What were the effects on the economy, society and wellbeing of the community involved and how did they negatively or positively re-enforce each other. Students created a poster on their issue using the Compass as their central point. They added positive and negative feedback loops and presented their ideas to the rest of the class.

Exploring the notion ‘what if Israel controlled all the holy sites in Jerusalem’ using the Compass model.

When I reflect myself on the process of using the Compass to explore such a deep and complex issue, I realise that the process is as complicated as the system! In order for students to really attach meaning and understanding, a common language needs to be developed that focuses on the notion of Systems Thinking, allowing them to think more deeply about how to approach the investigation itself as well as using it as a reflective tool.

I hope this has given them a taster for further Compass development in the future!

[box]Written by Shani Ben-Aroya, 2017, while serving as CAS Coordinator and IB teacher at Eastern Mediterranean International School, Israel[/box]

Introducing Systems Thinking in Fifth Grade Social Studies

In January, 2017, many teachers at Colegio Maya had the fantastic opportunity to attend a two-day workshop run by our director, Michael Johnston, one of Compass Education’s master trainers, with assistance from several teachers who had previously completed the Level 1, Compass Practitioner training. I’m so glad I was able to participate and walked away feeling invigorated and excited about teaching children about systems and how we can use this knowledge to positively impact our world in a meaningful way.

My class and I got started right away in Social Studies. In fifth grade, we study Ancient Rome. This year, our essential questions were: How do systems work? and How did the Roman Empire get so big? The children were fascinated to see videos depicting the rise of the Roman Empire and its rapid expansion. We chose the second question because it’s a great systems thinking question and allows us to dig into all the factors of the time that contributed to building an empire unparalleled in human history.


In the first week we examined the Geography of the Italian peninsula and made inferences about how the geography could have impacted the expansion. We started to dig into the deep learning and difficult work of mapping systems with concept maps.

The plan was to expand on our understanding of systems, the various types of systems in our world, how they work and the BIG IDEA –> Every part of a system is interconnected, and changes to one part can and will affect the rest!

The goal in this unit was to be able to step back and view one factor like “Rome had access to the Mediterranean Sea” in context and examine how that impacted Rome’s Society, Economy and the Wellbeing of its citizens. The goal in the future is to leave students with the skills to apply this kind of thinking to solve contemporary problems that matter to them and the tools to have a real impact on making the world a better place.

Students making inferences about the natural landscape of Ancient Rome


In the second week of the unit, we continued to emphasize our essential questions: How do systems work? and How did the Roman Empire Get so Big? While reading about Ancient Rome, we also incorporated important nonfiction reading skills such as: close reading for details, visualizing and making inferences.

In the first week, we focused on Geography and how natural systems created opportunities for expansion. This week we learned about the Roman Army and examined factors that led to its success. As I explained previously, throughout this unit, we will continue to expand on our understanding of systems, the various types of systems in our world, how they work and the BIG IDEA –> Every part of a system is interconnected and changes to one part can and will affect the rest!

This week, we learned that all systems will have or experience:

  • Nodes (the individual ideas/concepts that connect)
  • Connections and relationships between nodes. Sometimes cause/effect relationships. Sometimes not.
  • Growth & Decrease
  • Strengthening & Weakening
  • Balancing & Reinforcing Loops

This was all really new language for us, and we’ll have to continue practicing it in context to master it. Concept mapping was also a completely new and challenging skill; however, I was really proud of the students’ enthusiasm and their deep thinking. One student said, “This is fun!” Another student said, “We should do this always with everything!”

We used the Sustainability Compass to learn about four different types of systems in our world: Wellbeing, Nature, Society & Economy, and how they can connect and affect each other.

We expanded our concept maps from last week to add more nodes, more connections across different types of systems, reflect and make inferences.

Students used a Sustainability Compass Organizer to expand their concept maps, connect ideas and make inferences about Roman Expansion across systems

Examples of some connections students made:

“Soldiers are well paid and get land. Money spreads, and people get richer!”

“Fertile farm land is a resource. People get food, eat well, stay healthier and are stronger to attack their enemies and defend themselves.”

“The army had good training which means they were disciplined and more successful at conquering cities. More cities under Roman control meant more resources and on and on.”


In addition to practicing nonfiction reading skills like close reading for details, visualizing and making inferences, in the third week, we really focused on ASKING QUESTIONS. Asking great questions and essential nonfiction reading skills are at the heart of successful research.

Thinking About Questions
One interesting way of thinking about questions comes from The Right Question Institute. We read, looked at pictures and captions to generate questions, then we categorized our questions as OPEN or CLOSED. Open questions lead to answers with big ideas, complex answers, more questions, connections, etc. Closed questions lead to simple, yes/no, or fact-based answers. Both kinds of questions are useful in research. Knowing the difference helps students either narrow their focus or open it up according to their needs.

We also categorized our questions by system: Society, Economy, Wellbeing & Nature by placing our questions written on post-its on “systems question charts”. This week students practiced reading closely for information and answered as many questions as possible that we had up on our systems question charts. They also kept adding new questions as they thought of them. Categorizing questions by system provided another opportunity to see connections. One student said, “The question was in Society, but the answer should really be in Economy!”

As & Bs – The Relationships in Systems
This week students also played a morning game called “As & Bs”. The rules are simple: Sit in a circle. Randomly select an “A” person and a “B” person silently and secretly. After selection, your goal is to move about the room staying as close to your A person as possible and as far away from your B person as possible (or vice versa depending on the round). When you achieve your goal, you can stop moving.

How did we relate this to systems? Watch this video to find out!

Student Research Questions and Answers Related to Economy


This week each student chose a system area to focus their research in order to become an “expert” in that area. We’ve practiced some really important notetaking and research skills like:

  1. How to use tools like a table of contents and an index to find information about a topic
  2. How to cite sources
  3. How to keep notes organized
  4. How to paraphrase information in our own words
  5. How to read closely for details
  6. How to distinguish relevant information


This week our goal was to all come back together, pool our knowledge and resources to make connections between the systems and attempt to understand the full complexity behind our big questions: How do systems work? and How did the Roman Empire get so big?

We convened in teams once again. This time, on each team, there was an “expert” from each systems area based on what he or she researched the previous week. Planning for our final project had three steps:

1) Review our previous concept maps
2) Review our research
3) Make a new concept map using the sustainability compass that combines information, makes connections and captures big ideas and new understandings about Roman Expansion

Next, students consolidated their learning and decided on a way to present their ideas creatively. They needed to think: What were their big ideas? How do they want to show others? Options included posters, skits, slideshows, and anything else they could think of. Three groups chose to present their ideas in a skit, and one group chose to do a slideshow.

A slide from the slideshow by Jana Calzada, Jasper New, Zohar Azar and Max Engelhard. Click here to see the full slideshow!

In the end, I’m so proud of the students and their hard work. They did some deep thinking and grappled with complex concepts. They have shown their understanding in various ways of the big ideas in this unit, for example:

How do systems work?

  • There are four systems that govern how our world functions: Nature, Economy, Wellbeing and Society.
  • These systems interconnect in complex ways.
  • When something changes in one system, it can affect all the other systems.
  • When systems are in balance, they function well. If not, systems can fail.

How did the Roman Empire get so big?

  • Many factors (or nodes) in all the systems combined and contributed to Roman expansion.
  • Factors in one system connected to, affected or reinforced factors in other systems.
  • Factors included: natural surroundings, the Roman army, roads, trade, social and economic structures like slavery, and many more.

Click here to see students explain it in their own words in a skit.
Click here to view student exit tickets about their systems learning.

[box]Submitted in cooperation with Danielle Metzler, 2017, while serving as Fifth Grade Teacher at
Colegio Maya, Guatemala

Grade Four Business Unit of Study: Goods and Services

The Grade 4 unit of study, Goods and Services, was a unit which had historically centered around seeing how businesses run and the main ideas behind what businesses need to make a profit. It culminated in a ‘market day’ where student sold their own products that they had come up with and made to the school community at lunchtime.

This year new changes were proposed to try to get sustainability into the unit. In the previous year it was introduced that one aspect of the product on market day had to be recycled. This thinking continued with the team until a guest speaker was arranged just prior to the students coming up with their ideas. Mike Johnston was given the remit to talk about the circular economy and new ways of viewing production lines and how our consumerism can change looking to the future. This struck a chord with students and this changed their thinking significantly with regard to their product. Students were responsible for being in charge of their budget and generating profit; this also had an impact on their profit and we found students were generating more profit using different ways of thinking about producing goods.

More systems thinking in grade 4 - 2

Systems Thinking in Grade 4

At the start of the unit sustainability-based provocations were used in place of the traditional essential questions for the unit. Instead of “How do businesses generate profit” the question posed was as a tug of war between “A business’s sole purpose is to generate profit” and “A business should benefit the community”. Further tug of wars included “A business should benefit the environment” and “ A business should bring well being”. In other words, uses the points of the compass. This was not perfect in itself, and ideally a quadrant-type 4 way pull would be used, but it did generate discussion and more questions for us to inquire into. The first two prompts were used as homework to take home and interview parents on; these were recorded on a class padlet.

Reflections from the grade were that the aspects of sustainability that were introduced were very successful and the grade wants to get more into the unit next year. They are also seeing ways now that the compass can be used in the unit on location and the development of settlements and the way Singapore is planning for the future in a sustainable fashion.

Two of us, after attending Compass Education Level 1 workshop, gave systems thinking a go with our classes after our market day experience. The students had designed products and advertised them and sold them on a Tuesday and then a Thursday, so there was plenty of opportunity for them to change their thinking in response to customers. I thought this would be a great thing to plot its complexity using systems thinking. While the whole idea of cause and effect can be challenging to grade four, we led it out very gently, modeling simple relationships such as “customers like our product” and “because customers liked our product…customers bought our product” and “because customers bought our product…we sold out of our product” and modeled some links from there. We then let the students go off and develop further links, all the time bringing them back to the simple language of causality.

It went well in so much as it showed that exploring system complexity can take place with grade fours and that it is a good tool for exploring causal relationships. This has been a great start and is something to build on next year.

[box]Submitted in cooperation with Luke Whitehouse, 2015, while serving as Head of Grade 4 at UWCSEA East Campus, Singapore[/box]

Dorm Leadership

The Sustainability Compass model was shared with the students in the Dorm Leadership Council. These students make written proposals to the Dorm Administrators to make changes in the system. We had great discussions on why the Dorm Coordinator would not want to do some of the changes that the students want. It helped them realize other points of view as to why rules were made and are enforced.

The students used this model in their proposals by understanding and noting that the fruit they wanted to be added to their meals, costs more but it is healthier. Some discussion on a compromise from the administration was that they would pay extra money for the fruit. And that next year fruit would be added to the menu, because then it can be budgeted. Students did not realize budgets were made in advance and projected estimates of food costs were all part of it.

Another issue about use of cell phones at night was discussed. Currently all electronic devices are confiscated at night to allow for adequate sleep. By using the Compass model, students realized that the reason why they are taken away at night was to allow for the W (Wellbeing) aspect of the model. It make the students more aware of other’s points of view.[box]Submitted in cooperation with Erin Wise-Ackenbom, 2016, while serving as EAL Teacher at Dalian American International School, China[/box]

Human Impact on Tioman Island

Working with the Sustainability Coordinator, we identified our grade level trips as opportunities to utilize systems thinking on sustainability with students. As a result we created several lesson plans utilizing the Sustainability Compass. In the first lesson, all 6th grade students participate in the “HDB Condo Case Study” where they place the nearby construction of new condo residences at the center of the Compass and decide where different indicators fall on the Compass. This was a preparatory lesson plan activating students’ prior knowledge about the Sustainability Compass in order to use it again during the 6th grade Tioman trip.

Condo Compass Case Study_Alex Wenzel

During the trip, students use the Sustainability Compass in a lesson plan examining human impact on the island. The outcome we hoped for was increased student ability to see human impact on Tioman Island from the perspectives of Nature, Economy, Society and Wellbeing.

Tioman Compass_Alex Wenzel

[box border=”top and bottom”]Submitted in cooperation with Alexandria Wenzel, 2015, while serving as Middle School Science and Math Teacher at UWCSEA East Campus, Singapore[/box]

Ancient Egypt Compass

In my 4th grade class at Wells International School, we are wrapping up a unit on settlement patterns around the globe and how geography shapes the lives of people and cultures. This seemed like an opportune time to incorporate what I had recently learned from a Compass Education workshop.

For one of our unit projects, I decided to have the whole class create a compass of ancient Egypt. While conducting research for the compass, the students discovered how vital the Nile River was to the various aspects of Egyptian civilization. They were able to link each compass section to the Nile and see how these parts were inter-related. Writing extensions helped to reinforce this interconnectedness. Creating the compass helped my students develop a deeper understanding of how the environment impacts people’s lives.

20151116_165947Article submitted in cooperation with Brad Moleon, 2015, while serving as Grade 4 homeroom teacher at Wells International School, Bangkok, Thailand

Conservation of the Bali Starlings in the Compass Model

The Compass model is an invaluable tool to help students become systems thinkers looking at the big picture of our world and its interconnections.

As an educator with a degree in ‘Educating for Sustainability’ and teaching at a school focused on environmental and sustainable education, I have found the Compass model to be one of the most useful tools at my disposal. I find it works well for both designing units and lessons to ensure each aspect of sustainability is touched upon, as well as a lens for students to look at topics and discuss and understand sustainability.

One of my favourite uses of the Compass model as an educator has been for a unit in which my Grade 8 class examined the conservation efforts to re-establish a healthy population of Bali Starlings into the wilds of Bali, Indonesia. Bali Starlings is Bali’s only remaining endemic species with the Bali Tiger was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. It is a beautiful white-feathered bird with a striking patch of royal blue around its eyes and is held in high regard by the Balinese.

Unfortunately, its beauty was its down coming, as it became a popular bird on the exotic pet market. It was trapped and sold to the point that only about a dozen or so birds were thought to be living in the wild as late as the mid 1990s. However, through the work of a few organisations, there are a number of successful breeding colonies that have been re-introduced to the wild.

As part of this unit, the students used the Compass model to assess the sustainability of this conservation effort. Students were asked to go create a Compass model and identify the positive and negative aspects of the conservation effort. Students approached this in different ways, from creating artful posters to creating digital info graphs. They then wrote a report on their assessment of the overall sustainability of the conservation effort.

We were very fortunate to have as a guest in the classroom a person who traps and sells birds to the underground pet market. This gave the students a wonderful opportunity to humanise the poachers and understand the Compass model from their point of view – particularly their well-being and economics as it was revealed that this poaching was the best way he had to put food on the table for him, his wife and infant son.

Submitted in cooperation with Glenn Chickering, 2015, while serving as Middle School Coordinator and Global Awareness Teacher at Green School, Bali

Compassing Dolphinariums at International School Bangkok


Recently, International School Bangkok (ISB), became interested in the issue of dolphin captivity, particularly as it pertains to the capture and use of wild dolphins for aquariums. To understand this issue and the factors related to it, ISB’s Grade 3 classes (age 8) used the Sustainability Compass as a lens to explore and investigate this issue.  ISB teacher shared that when he asked his students “who would like to go see some dolphins in a show?”. Just about all the hands went up in excitement.


However, before he proceeded to allow the discussion to go further, he asked his students to look at dolphins in captivity through the lens of the Compass.  He divided the children into four groups, corresponding to each of the four Compass points to start the discussion.  Later on the children were able to rotate and look at the issue from another Compass perspective to share their ideas and feelings about this issue.

Teacher explained that this activity helped students to see with new eyes, and were more open to the issues and had more and more questions than they started with.  Playing more of a facilitator role, the teacher avoided steering students in one direction or another in order to enhance their critical thinking skills by allowing them to bring up questions they might not have thought about without the Compass to help them look at the issue with more breadth and depth. “Once started, the kids rolled with it.”  The entire session lasted one hour.

There were many questions from the students that would require them to do more research, however, they had surfaced enough evidence to make an informed group decision about going to see these types of aquarium shows.  In the end, they declined the offer to go see a show, and asked if they could go see them in the wild instead.

A few days later, one of the girls’ who had a birthday said that her initial plan for her birthday was to take her friends to visit Safari World for the day.  After this Compass lesson, the girl asked her mom to cancel this trip and for them to do something else. The mom told the teacher that her daughter came home and said “mom, we can’t go” and then explained everything to the mom and they planned something more appropriate.


Submitted in cooperation with Kerry Dyke, 2014, while serving as Environmental Coordinator at ISB


Supporting Units of Inquiry through the Library

More complex images for older students

More complex images for older students

I try to go through Compass with all Junior grade levels as often as possible, but at least twice a year. With the younger ages, to review the Compass Points I put four large (A3 size) laminated sheets on the floor with N, E, S, and W. I give each student a picture and have him or her stand on which point they think it belongs to. For the youngest students the pictures are very simplistic, and the pictures are more complex for older students; this invites conversation about those items that could go in more than one point. Then I choose a book, preferably linked to the class’ current Unit of Inquiry, and we spend several sessions discussing the book, using Compass to help organize, deepen and connect the discussion.

Simplistic images for youngest students

Simplistic images for youngest students

Example pages from Me, Oliver Bright; the main character compares his own life to that of his father and grandfather

Example pages from Me, Oliver Bright connected with the Unit of Inquiry Where We Are in Place and Time

In Early Years 1 and 2 students look at the ways we play to learn, and to express our feelings and ideas during the Unit of Inquiry How We Express Ourselves. In Early Years 3 and Grade 1 we look at our Library Essential Agreement at the end of Term 1; through the different Compass lenses students reflect on essential agreement behaviours and how they might be improved (if necessary).

In Grade 2 we have used the book Me, Oliver Bright by Megan De Kantzow and Sally Rippin for three years in a row connected with the Unit of Inquiry Where We Are in Place & Time. The book is about an Australian boy who compares his life to that of his father and grandfather. To facilitate our discussion, I have laminated copies of pictures from the story, which students post on a large board marked with the four Compass Points.

In Grade 3, during the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet, students use the Compass to look more closely at the challenges and risks children face worldwide. Selected pictures from the book are copied, cut and laminated to facilitate further discussion; students place the laminated pictures into Compass domains.

Selected pictures from the book are copied, cut and laminated to facilitate further discussion; students place the laminated pictures into Compass domains

Selected pictures from the book are placed  into Compass domains by the students

In Grade 4 we do a similar exercise using the book Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta connected with the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet. We spend at least four weeks on this lesson (including one lesson reviewing Compass), and again, I use laminated copies of pictures from the book to facilitate our discussion.

In Grade 5, I do a lesson on Using Energy At School connected with the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet. I have laminated copies of some pages from Save Energy by Claire Llewellyn that show parts of a school and how energy is used in a school setting. We look for places where we could save energy, and then use the Compass to help discuss why we might want to save energy. I write directly on the laminated copy as students identify points of discussion.

Picture of energy usage points

Picture of energy usage points


From Sarah Handley, 2012 while serving as Library and Information Services Specialist, PTIS, Chiang Mai, Thailand