Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chaos Theory, Twitter and the Common Core

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's a blog post title that hasn't been used before. And won't ever be again.

I've read a little bit about chaos theory, although I don't pretend to really understand it. My very simplified understanding of it is that very small changes in initial conditions can result in very different outcomes of a dynamic system (often illustrated by "a butterfly flapping its wings in China can change the weather in Denver" - although I don't think that quite captures it). There are other conditions that have to be present (topological mixing - which I sort of get, and its periodic orbit must be dense - which I really don't), but it boils down to
When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.
At some point today a fleeting thought crossed my brain and, as so often happens, I decided to record it here on the blog, even though I know it opens me up to ridicule do to my lack of real understanding of chaos theory. So be it. The thought was something along the lines of
What effect does something like Twitter have on complex, dynamic systems?
Note that it doesn't have to be Twitter, but any of the synchronous and asynchronous ways we have today of communicating, collaborating, and generally "topologically mixing." But Twitter is the one that came to mind, so I'm going with it. If dynamic systems with nearly identical initial conditions can result in very different outcomes, then can these various ways of "mixing" - how they are present and how they are applied - both constitute and amplify a change in initial conditions?

So what in the world does this have to do with Common Core? Probably nothing, but here is the premise of Common Core:
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.

. . . High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations that are aligned to the expectations in college and careers. The standards promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.
So the follow-up thought that came to my mind today was something like:
By trying to standardize on a common core curriculum to assure equality of preparation, aren't we ignoring what we know about dynamic systems?
Namely, that there's no possible way to standardize enough to prevent wildly different outcomes. We have so many variables in the inputs (background of the students, background of the teachers, the effectiveness of the HVAC system, . . .), and so many variables along the way, that we can't possibly use a controlled curriculum to pre-determine the outcomes.

So if the basic premise of Common Core ignores what we know about complex systems, where does that leave us? Perhaps jumping out of the Core (err, car). (Or maybe just talking to myself, both are possible.)

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