Teaching Chaos and Complex Evolutionary Systems Theories at the Introductory Level
Lynn S. Fichter
Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University
This is a learning progression of 12 models leading to 19 learning outcomes designed to introduce chaos and complex systems theories concepts in 3 - 5 50 minute classes. Includes power points of class demonstrations, computer lab experiments, links to a wide diversity of resources and computer models, and experiments with complex systems models.
Learning progression is used in various forms in about half a dozen courses, including general education classes and geology classes. This is designed to introduce novice, non-science majors to the principles and properties of chaos/complex systems.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
The strategies outlined here for teaching chaos and complex evolutionary systems theories were developed over the past 15 years or so by Lynn Fichter and Steve Baedke in several classes. Depending on the depth of exploration, a basic exploration for introductory students takes 2-5 50 minute classes. We teach these concepts using the rubrics recommended here in at least four classes, include a general education class dealing with the Earth and its environments (GGEOL 102: Environment: Earth), the historical geology class for majors (GEOL 230, Evolution of the Earth), another general education course dedicated to evolutionary systems of all kinds (GEOL 200, Evolutionary Systems), and, a new course in the environmental science minor (ENVT 200 - Environmental Systems Theory).
Content/concepts goals for this activity
See descriptions at the JMU Complex Evolutionary Systems website
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description of the activity/assignment
We systematically introduce chaos/complex systems theory concepts in at least four courses we teach, although to different depths depending on the goals of the course. We begin by exploring the behavior and properties of chaotic systems (about two 50 minute classes) and then use complexity theory models to talk about the different kinds of evolution (2-3 more 50 minute classes).
The courses include a general education class dealing with the Earth and its environments (GGEOL 102: Environment: Earth), the historical geology class for majors (GEOL 230, Evolution of the Earth), another general education course dedicated to evolutionary systems of all kinds (GEOL 200, Evolutionary Systems), and, a new course in the environmental science minor (ENVT 200 - Environmental Systems Theory) In all of the courses we demonstrate concepts with algorithms using computer based simulations where possible. In the evolutionary systems and environmental systems classes there are frequent breakouts to do computer lab experiments.
Chaos/complex systems concepts in the historical geology class are developed in one fell swoop near the beginning of the semester, while in the others courses concepts are introduced in steps throughout the semester, exactly how and in what depth depends on the subject matter and course level.
Determining whether students have met the goalsMore information about assessment tools and techniques.
Teaching materials and tips
Activity Description/Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 18kB Mar26 10)
Instructors Notes (Acrobat (PDF) 128kB Mar26 10)