Reflecting on Complex Adaptive Systems and Feedback Loops



After completing the Ted Ed Feedback Loops activities, share:

  1. One example of a feedback loop that already exists in your curriculum.
  2. An idea for how to help students make connections and understand that feedback loop.
  3. (Optional, but highly recommended!) Read through the posts to find another idea for a feedback loop that is used in your curriculum. Leave that teacher a constructive comment or question about how they are planning to help students understand the feedback loop.


This fits in precisely with the ecosystem and biomes unit. It is easy to see the patterns when teaching the food chain as well as causality and niches. Complex adaptive systems will also be useful when working on global climate change and albedo.

  1. A feedback loop already existing in my curriculum - We are doing the GUTS Rabbit Ecosystem model using Starlogo Nova. Students can see the results of overpopulation, and the effect of introducing a predator.

  2. An idea to help students make connections and understand the feedback loop is to show the TED talk from this teacher lesson. It has the right mix of ideas and graphic illustrations to show the concept of feedback loops. I especially like the representation of equilibrium as fluctuation within a more narrow range of values, intertwining fluctuating curves of elements of the food chain. This is a complex idea, but the TED Talk and graphics make it accessible to students. I will use this for sure!


I like your use of the work causality. This is a good opportunity to reinforce and apply concepts of cause and effect. This would also be a chance to see if students have misconceptions on what is a cause and what is an effect in a given situation.


In Tech Ed we study open nand closed loop systems. A closed loop has an extra component called feedback. We could use a Project GUTS model showing the difference between both type of systems.


In Computer Science, I try to support other STEM Teachers. I can use the spread of disease loop as well as populations loops in my classes.Project GUTS is a great resource to begin these projects.


I can use the TedEd video on feedback loops with the foodweb and Project Guts module on prey/preditor relationships. By using multiple sources students will better understand how feedback works in multiple ways. We also teach feedback in climate change.


An example of feedback loop that already exists in my classroom is planetary orbit. The rule is simple the more massive the object the more gravity it has. This year I used this idea to have the kids predict what would happen if we were closer to Pluto.


An example of a feedback loop that is my curriculum is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between photosynthesis & cellular respiration. Although autotrophs (organisms that make their food by using light energy) need carbon dioxide to make food through photosynthesis, they need oxygen to break down the glucose that they make in order to use its stored energy. Because they do not use energy to move around, plants, autotrophic bacteria, and algae make more oxygen than they use, which adds oxygen to the atmosphere—creating a positive feedback loop. Heterotrophs use oxygen to release the energy from the glucose that they consume, and give off carbon dioxide which is in turn used by the autotrophs.
Students could use a computer model of a sealed terrarium in which they use sliders to change the amount of autotrophs and heterotrophs in the system. Possibly students could alter the coding in order to balance the oxygen and carbon dioxide ratios in an attempt to keep the system going perpetually.


We are studying aquatic ecosystems and water quality using computer models and a classroom aquarium. Feedback loops exist in terms of the various water quality levels (pH, nitrite, nitrate, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, etc.,) and the health of the fish population. The students are able to manipulate the water quality in their computer models and receive immediate “feedback” about the feedback loops!


In our Human Body System Unit students are taught about positive and negative feedback systems. Examples: Positive feedback mechanisms such as birthing and clot formation Negative feedback mechanisms seen with blood sugar regulation in individuals with diabetes and maintaining body temperature.
They readily make connections and understand feedback mechanisms when they are introduced to food webs and other relationships among living organisms.

  1. Within the 8th grade curriculum, using feedback loops allows you to manipulate work by swapping force for distance or distance for force when using machines.
  2. Using the 6 simple machines, students would create and calculate the work done by the machine when swapping force for distance or distance for force. This will visually enforce the idea that machines have real world applications in making our daily lives easier.

  1. With in biology curriculum, in feedback loops in brain functions, it relies on feedback mechanisms and feed back inhibitions to process signals into and out of the brain. This process allows the body to maintain homeostasis and function properly.

  2. Introduce a stimulus into students environment and watch the bodies reaction to the stimulus. Ex. loud noise, temperature change


I really like your example. Did you or will you have students make a model to represent what they predict would happen if we were closer to Pluto? Or will they just write about it?


Excellent scenario. I have been trying to figure out how to have student manipulate the code part of the lesson and adding a slider to the equation would show them how this relationship works.

  1. example of positive feedback loop: nuclear fission, with self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction caused by emission of neutrons.

example of negative feedback loop: Potential and Kinetic energy of pendulum. As one increases, the other decreases.

  1. nuclear fisison: game of tag starting with one person (the fox) tagging everyone else (the hares). Rule: when tagged, you become a fox. Number of foxes will increases exponentially

PE vs KE: use online simulation of skatepark. Have students compare PE and KE and the sum of both.


Nice! This negative feedback loop could be visualized using a meter stick balance on block of wood in the middle. Use different weights at different distances from the center to calculate work as force x distance to fulcrum.


I don’t teach science directly, but I work with newcomer ESL students in science classes to help them understand the content. I am going to share this video with the science teachers, especially the ones who teach about ecosystems.