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Paper Clip Factory Analogy:  a simple model, a simple system

Purpose
• To provide students with an opportunity to explore the essential components of a simple system or model by using a simulation activity in which students enact the parts of a paper clip manufacturing business.
• In order to develop an understanding of the components of a system that represents a simple model, students will be provided with the opportunity to collect and analyze data produced during the simulation as well as the chance to translate the data into a generalized 1-box model that can be manipulated to produce varying outcomes.

Overview
Students will work in small groups that represent the components of a simple paper clip manufacturing business including the factory, store, and customers.  Through a simulation activity in which students act out the paper clip manufacturing system, students will take part in one part of a simple system.  As a result of the simulation, students will identify and analyze the basic parts of a simple system or model including inputs, outputs, and stocks.

Essential Question
How does the paper clip factory simulation represent a simple system or model?

Student Outcomes
• Students will simulate a basic system that represents a simple model of a paper clip manufacturing business
• Students will collect data and record values in a data table and a graph during the simulation
• Students will analyze final data collection and describe patterns of the inputs and outputs of the paper clip factory system using qualitative descriptions and mathematical equations
• Students will explore the paper clip analogy and compare to the schematic diagram of a 1-box model labeled with key terms in order to learn these modeling terms
• Students will manipulate the variables of the model in order to obtain an expected outcome and analyze the strategy used for obtaining the particular outcome
• Students will write a response to the essential question:  how does the paper clip factory simulation represent a simple system or model?

Science Concepts
• Modeling and modeling terms (e.g., pools, fluxes, equilibrium, steady state)
• Components of a system
• Using a model to explore different outcomes or scenarios

Time
60-90 minutes

Level
Middle & High School