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MIT BLOSSOMS Project-Based Learning Units—Complex Systems

MIT BLOSSOMS Project-Based Learning Units—Complex Systems


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About This Lesson

MIT BLOSSOMS has a Project-Based Learning site with six in-depth lessons designed for high school teachers who want to give PBL a try, but are not sure just how to get started. Each BLOSSOMS PBL unit is developed to provide a teacher with all the resources and scaffolding needed to conduct a three to five-week classroom project. Every BLOSSOMS unit kicks off with a BLOSSOMS video lesson, thus providing the anchoring content and direction for a follow-on project. Teachers new to PBL will also find on this site many answers to questions they may have, as well as invaluable advice on how to successfully lead a PBL unit. While we understand that most teachers won’t be able to devote three weeks completely to a Project-Based Learning unit, the units provided here can be presented on non-consecutive days, for example, two days per week. It is our hope that these units will be valuable stepping stones as teachers grow in confidence about developing their own PBL units! We encourage teachers new to PBL to visit the following resource on this site: Teacher Questions on PBL. To take a Video Tour of this BLOSSOMS PBL site, click here.

Complex Systems: Driving Question
If we view Covid-19 or flu as complex systems, how can we analyze them and lessen their impact on our community?

Complex Systems: Big Idea
Infectious diseases are very powerful for teaching about two types of tightly coupled disease dynamics: those inherent in the virus itself and those associated with human behavior in the presence of the virus. The problem of the spread and attempted control of an infectious disease is addressed as a Complex System, highly interdisciplinary and includes math, physics, biology, and social and behavioral sciences. In this project, students will investigate the recent spread of coronavirus or seasonal influenza in their town, region or country and provide recommendations for dealing with future outbreaks.

During this one month project: 

Students will learn:

  • Basic concepts from the field of system dynamics that lie at the heart of systems thinking, such as stocks and flows, feedback loops, unintended consequences, etc.
  • About an important public health problem, influenza, that society faces every year
  • About mathematical models used to study and understand the spread of respiratory infectious diseases
  • The basic dynamics of epidemiology, including exponential growth of infections
  • What is required to achieve herd immunity
  • How to adjust their own personal behaviors to reduce chances of becoming infected

Students will be able to:

  • Look at a system as a whole and analyze the system’s underlying structure
  • Understand infection feedback mechanisms
  • Create “Stock and Flow” mathematical models of disease infection and recovery
  • Estimate their own personal values for R0, the exponential growth factor of a disease
  • Analyze and understand the roles of vaccines, herd immunity and social distancing
  • Present research findings in a 10-minute Lightning Talk with slides

For all project materials, visit:


The Surprising World of Complex Systems
Remote video URL


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