Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moving to the Edge of Chaos

(Cross posted to LeaderTalk)

Last week I attended a Professional Development meeting for principals in our area. Among the things discussed was reflective evaluation and planning for the future. One speaker presented the concept that we need a new model for thinking about our schools and how we approach administration. I did not make notes on what he suggested was the current model but the model he suggested for the future did catch my eye. He called it the Life Science Model and here is what I got down:

  • Equilibrium is a precursor to death
  • Living systems move to the edge of chaos
  • Self organization and emergence take place
  • Systems can not be directed along a linear path

Being comfortable with living on the edge of chaos is a real challenge for our educational system ( and myself as a type A personality) but I believe those of us who are embracing all things 2.0 see this as a reality. I am also struck by the fact that it is a mandate for living systems to approach that edge so we better get used to it …

I was also struck by the last statement…Systems can not be directed on along a linear path…can we substitute the word learning for systems? Or what about adding the word learning so we are talking about “Learning Systems”.

I have not had time to fully process this but I am both challenged and given hope. This is the model I am moving toward so I am on the right track but it also is a radical shift from where I (we) have been in education. It pushes my boundaries. What do you think?

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bogusia said...

My Mother, Krystyna Laycraft, is a theoretical physicist, but now applies chaos theory to psychology, human development, etc. This is a small exerpt of what she has to say about chaos theory and the teenage brain:

The Chaos Theory studies open, complex, nonlinear and dynamic systems, those that constantly interact with and adjust to their environment. They are changing, growing, learning, and evolving. They exhibit an extreme sensitivity to their initial conditions. The very slight difference in their starting points makes a very large difference in their fates.

In some conditions, dynamic systems behave in a regular, cyclical way until something sets them off – a critical point is passed, and suddenly they go chaotic. This critical point where system changes characteristic of the motion is called the a bifurcation point. The complex structures of chaotic motion are the attractors.

Examples of such systems are everywhere around us and inside of us. They are our bodies, our brains, our consciousness, our lives, our schools, our families, nature, weather, etc.

Human brain is the most complex system in the natural world. It is composed of about one hundred billion neurons interconnected through synapses. The essence of who we are reflects patterns of interconnectivity between neurons in our brain. Our genetic inherence and life experiences shape the synaptic organization of the brain.

New discoveries of neuroscience confirmed that the teen brain undergoes dramatic transition and can be described by the chaotic attractor. It was found that the frontal lobe of the brain undergoes far more changes during the teen years than at any other stage of life, and it is the last part of the brain to develop.

Teenagers often rely on emotional parts of the brain, rather than the frontal lobe. This is why they are often moody and overwhelmed with emotions. The adolescent brain is still a work in progress. It is a time of enormous opportunity and of enormous risk. The teenage years are a kind of critical time to optimize the brain. The activities of the teenagers sculpture neuronal connections in their brain.

Teenagers must be driven to explore, seek novelty, and take risks. This is the important period of life for acquiring skills necessary to succeed as an adult.

Thought you would be interested.

Patrick Higgins said...


Your post about chaos fits nicely with the line of thinking that I have been following lately in trying to get my head around this idea of virtual schools. In planning for what we think might work for us, we are envisioning the type of teacher that we need in order for successful pedagogy to occur in an online school.

What we have come to realize is that the teacher that will be successful is very similar the type of situation you describe in your post: existing on the edge of chaos. However, we want the teacher that manages that, or even needs it for his or her class to function. Teachers need to be willing to reinvent themselves rapidly and often, with great thought given to the fluidity that will define teaching in School 2.0. The conversations I have been having with my staff lately center less on technology, but more on the thinking we will need to keep pace with its capabilities. Much the same for teaching, I think, will be that need to focus less on what technology should be taught, but more on teaching students how to find what technology matches their needs.

Great post, as usual.

Krystyna Laycraft said...

For almost four years I am running a Center for Chaotic Studies. My main goal is to teach people about Chaos Theory and its application to our life. I analyse creation and operation of schools using concepts of Chaos Theory, like nonlinearity, bifurcation points, attractors, positive and negative feedback and so on.
I applied Chaos Theory to creativity and human development. You can find more information on my website:

krystyna Laycraft said...

I would like to add to my last comment an information about a great organization Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences (
Since 2004, Education and Arts are included to this organization. This year on July 27-29 we will have the annual conference at Chapman University, Orange, CA. For educators, it is a great opportunity to learn about Chaos Theory and its applications to processes of teaching,learning,organizing, and running schools.

Barbara said...

Thanks for the Chaos Theory links. I will be doing some more reading.

Patrick -you always make me fee like I am on the right track. As I have been getting some resistance regarding the technology push at school I have been rethinking the conversation. I have recognized that we have to be discussing pedagogy. It is about how and what we teach not about technology. Technology is an essential tool but to get there we need to truly grapple with the changing knowledge, needs, skills etc that are essential to education today.

By the way thanks for all your blogs on virtual schools. They have provided us with a lot of food that we have not digested yet!

Carolyn Foote said...

This is a fascinating discussion.

As I think back through changes that have been most effective on my campus, most often they are ones that arise from the grass--roots of efforts of teachers, out of a particular need.

I've been thinking about this regarding libraries too, since I'm a librarian. The ways that information use is changing so rapidly changes the way we have to run/see libraries.

They used to be seen as more "static" and it is a tremendous change to see them as more dynamic, ever evolving places.
Lots to think about here.

I was also thinking about your initial remarks about pedagogy.
I think in our own enthusiasm this year over web 2.0 capabilities, that in talking about it we didn't make it enough about the change in pedagogy that should be part of the conversation.

The question is--is that an easier conversation than talking about technology? I would guess not.

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