On Monday, I started each of five classes by theatrically pouring out a box of stuff I had collected around the room the prior week: books and writing utensils abandoned at work stations, water bottles, empty drink cans, paper (whole and scraps), gum and candy wrappers, other detritus adolescents (among others) are prone to leave behind. Students mimed horror; a few gasped. I pointed students back to our self-study of design thinking to start the year and asked, "How might we improve this situation? How might we care better for the space we share?" Students offered a mix of ideas and excuses. Among the moments that made me smile: the sixth grader who offered wonderingly, "I guess we just need to be more aware."
The kaleidoscope started twirling on the drive home. I heard a radio interview with an author about "what it means to be a futurist" (transcript here, for the curious). The part that stuck with me and sent me deeper down the rabbit hole of my own thoughts was the writer's reference to meteorology professor Edward Lorenz who originated chaos theory. That particular idea I likely know best from this film:
Back in front of a computer, my next click brought me to a synopsis of Lorenz's work, including his finding that "small changes can have big consequences." Lorenz contrasts his view with deterministic ones in which "only one thing can happen next" based on whatever prior conditions led to a particular point.
While Lorenz unfolded his thinking from experience with weather models, his notions resonate for me in education. I crave (and sometime cling to) deterministic views of learning with their tidy causes and effects, even when I'm regularly confronted with messiness and unpredictability. Sometimes, as shown in the last week, that messiness can even be literal.