Introduction to Loopy - Modeling a Bad Day

When someone asks you how your day is going, do you typically answer in a few seconds without giving much time to assess how you feel? Do you consider all the events, people and factors that have contributed to how you feel? In this activity, you will make a model and assess a system (your day) in order to determine areas for improvement.

Scientists analyze systems and their connections in order to identify relationships and to find areas of improvement. Scientists use tools for their analyses. In this activity, you will analyze your day as a system using Loopy, a free tool. You will explore how you can leverage key parts within your system to optimize your day. This activity will also help familiarize you with Loopy, so you can use it in future lessons.

Applied Exercise - Understanding a Bad Day Through a Systems Approach

Background: As a student, you will experience a variety of emotions based on the events of a single day. Those events and emotions cause your overall outlook on the day to be either good, bad, or somewhere in between. Often that overall outlook is thought of as something out of our control and you just have to live with the result. But what if you began to think about a bad day as a system with each component influencing one another? Are there points that you might be able to control to turn a bad day into a good day?

In this activity, you will investigate how a systems approach can help scientists study a complex question. You will do this by modeling your bad day as a system. You will also be introduced to a tool (Loopy) to help model the interactions of individual components.

As you build your model, you will likely encounter the phenomenon of "feedback loops." These loops can either be "positive" or "negative," but be careful to not mistake these terms for "good" and "bad". Positive feedback increases change, disrupting a system from normal. You may have experienced this on a particularly bad day where you had little sleep, so you were grumpy, so things went wrong, so you got grumpier, and so on... this positive feedback increased your unhappiness until it felt overwhelming. Before you begin building your own model, take a moment to read this explanation of positive and negative feedback loops on our background information page. Then come back here and see if you can identify these loops in your own day. Disrupting unwanted feedback loops is one of the best ways to change your day!

  • Identifying a complex system and its components

  1. Think about a single day that you experienced recently that you would consider to be a bad day. Maybe it was a day that by the end of it you felt overwhelmed, irritated, frustrated, angry, stressed, or anxious.

  2. During this bad day, you experienced many different emotions and events that caused you to have a bad outlook. Identify parts of the day that you might consider to be good, bad, or neutral (neither good or bad but still there).

  3. Brainstorm a list of emotions or events that happened during a bad day. Write them either in your notes or in the following table.

      • Things to think about:

        1. Emotions and events don't have to be limited to what you did. Think about how you slept the night before or whether you ate well during the day.

        2. Even though you might think that your day only had bad events and emotions, chances are there were smaller good things that happened in between. Can you identify them?

  4. Identify and circle 2-3 main emotions or events that you feel most contributed to your bad day.

  • Connecting components together

Before you build a more interactive model of your bad day, you will start by sketching out what your system might look like on paper.

  1. Start by drawing 2-3 circles, which will be called nodes, in the middle of the box below (after the note in step 3) or in your notes. Label each one with a different element that you felt most caused your bad day. See the example to the right for help.

Note: A node in systems biology is referring to a single data point. In this case your data points are the events and emotions that led to a bad day.

2. Each node can then be connected by arrows, referred to as edges. It is important to keep in mind that the direction the arrow points shows cause and effect. The start of the arrow would be the cause while the end of the arrow is a result of the initial event.

      • For example, you might be in a bad mood, but you may not have slept well the night before which is the primary cause of the bad mood. With this example our edge connecting the 2 nodes would look like this:

3. Once you have connected your nodes with edges you will need to identify the type of relationship between nodes and assign either a positive sign (+) or negative sign (-). See note below for more information about positive and negative edges.

      • There is no right answer for the type of edge that connects your nodes. A positive edge for one person might be a negative edge for another.

Reminder: Positive and negative arrows do not coincide with “good” or “bad” interactions but instead are referring to the types of feedback. A positive arrow, or feedback, implies that the change occurs in the same direction (increase of one element causes increase of another) and a negative arrow implies that change occurs in the opposite direction (increase of one causes decrease of the other). For example: if you have a node called “meditation” that is connected to your node called “sleep," a positive arrow would indicate that an increase in meditation increases sleep, and if you decrease meditation, it decreases sleep. On the other hand, a negative arrow would indicate that if you increase meditation, it decreases sleep, and if you decrease meditation, it increases sleep. Together, multiple elements can form feedback loops that either create more change or less in the system. Read more about feedback loops.

4. Continue building off of your main components that caused your bad day. Add other events and emotions to each node that you feel contributed to the bad day. Use your original brainstorm list to help you continue to build your sketch.

      • Nodes can be connected to more than one other node. For example: a node called “sleep” might be connected to a node called “bad mood” and a node called “school”.

5. Keep this sketch somewhere you can find and access it easily - you'll need it for the next section!

  • Using Loopy to model complex ideas and identify interactions between components

1. Now that you have your initial model of your bad day system, you will start to build a more interactive model using Loopy, a tool that will help you see how the individual parts of your day interact to make it feel like a bad one. Open Loopy by clicking on the link or copy and paste the following web address:

    • You should see a screen that looks similar to the image below

2. To build your bad day system model:

      • Before you can begin building your own system model, you will first need to delete the sample model, outlined in the purple box in the following image. To do this, click on the eraser tool, which is the tool circled in red in the tool bar on the left side of the screen, then click on each component of the model you wish to erase.

Note: As you are working you may find that you are running out of space to continue your model and that there is no way to move around your model or zoom out. Instead you will need to zoom out on the web page using your browser controls. After you have changed your zoom, refresh the page and you will have more space to work in.

      • Once all the components of the sample have been removed you will be able to use your original sketch to begin building your model. Start by drawing 2-3 nodes using the pen tool, the red circled tool in the following image. Click and drag a circle-ish shape as the pen tool to create a node.

      • Once you have your nodes your model should kind of look like this:

      • Add labels to each node by clicking directly on the node to select it to be renamed. Then type the name of the bad day element into the name box, the yellow circled portion in the image to the right.

      • Add edges to your model as the pen tool by clicking and dragging a line between the two nodes you want to connect.

        • Remember that the direction of the edge shows causality and the type (+/-) shows the relationship. Look at the note in step 3 of Connecting the components together for more information about edges.

        • When you add an item from the neutral column remember to connect it with 2 arrows.

Note: A neutral emotion or event may not impact your overall outlook on your day in either a good way or bad way but it still is important to include in your system. This is because a neutral event will act like a "dampener", meaning it will lessen the impact of the good or bad nodes that it is attached to. When you include a neutral item in your system, it will need to be connected to other nodes with 2 edges, one for a positive relationship and one for a negative relationship. See the example to the right.

      • Continue to add the smaller contributors to your bad day to your model by adding additional nodes and edges from your original brainstorm list or your sketch. You should also continue to add edges until all of the relationships between the nodes are visible.

          • You should use the good, bad, and neutral items from your list. Since in this system, you are modeling a bad day you may find that you have fewer good or neutral events or emotions to add.

Note: It's OK for some of your additional nodes to only be connected to one other node, you just won't see any change in that node's size or influence on any other component when you play the model.

  • Interpreting the model

Now that you have built your model of a bad day you are going to run it to see if there are any changes that should be made.

1. Click the play button found below your model. Once you have clicked play the tool bar on the left of the screen will disappear and up/down arrows will appear on each of your nodes.

2. Drag the speed bar, found where the play button was in the green circle, towards the turtle to make your model easier to visualize.

3. Click the up arrow on the node that you feel most contributed to your bad day and watch what happens. Answer the following questions in your notes.

      1. What do you notice about your model? How does this model compare to the one that you sketched on paper? Is one better than the other? Defend your answer.

      2. Do you have any cycles of negativity, or points that a single bad event or emotion increases another bad event or emotion repeatedly, or do you have more individualized components? What might this tell you about each individual emotion or event's impact on your day?

      3. Write a summary about your bad day system model. What components do you see that cause other negative events to increase? What components are there that positively influenced your day?

      4. Sketch your new model.


  • The inner colored circle of each node will change in size as the model plays. If there is an increase in the size of the inner circle it means that there was an increase in that node, while a decrease in the size of the inner circle indicates a decrease in that node.

  • If there are nodes that are not interacting with other nodes in your model you can add an input by clicking the up arrow on that node.

  • Modify the model to take control of the day

  1. Make some improvements to your day by adding nodes.

      • Consider the things you can control to have the best, long-term effect.

        • For example:

          • You might set a bedtime to increase the amount of sleep you get which decreases your bad mood.

          • You might increase the number of extracurricular activities you are part of which increases your opportunity for positive social interactions.

  2. Click play on the model, click the up arrow on one of your nodes, and determine if the cycle was improved by monitoring changes in the node sizes.

  3. Continue to make changes and replay your model until you have improved your bad day.

      • Note: you cannot fix or change the initial events or emotions, but you can look for simple ways to increase good events or decrease bad events.

  • Summarize

  1. Write 1-2 paragraphs summarizing your bad day system. How does your Loopy model compare to your original sketch? Are there still any cycles of negativity that are causing a continuation in your bad day? What changes were you able to make to improve your day?

  2. Were there any pathways that were "grey areas"? How might those factors play a role in your day?

Students, please take this 1-minute survey, now that you've completed this activity. We are interested in learning about your experience so we can improve these resources. All responses to this survey are anonymous, all questions are optional, and your feedback is much appreciated.

Curriculum Contributors and Supporters

Dexter Chapin: Teacher Scholar, Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences
Ellie Rider: Teacher Scholar, 2019, ISB
Rachel Calder: Education Coordinator, ISB
Claudia Ludwig: Director of Systems Education Experiences, ISB
Nitin Baliga: ISB SVP and Director, Founder of Systems Education Experiences

Funding to support the development of this lesson was provided by the National Science Foundation Award DBI-1565166 & 0640950. The content of these pages was created by students for students with the help of teachers and scientists. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or ISB.