The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Creating Order Out of Chaos

I have a confession to make: I am absolutely fascinated by physics. I first took a course on physics while in high school but, honestly, other than vague notions of applying calculus and using vectors, I don’t think I got too much out of it. Basic principles stuck in my head, though, and I continued to enjoy learning more about how these scientists try to make sense of the world through mathematical models. While attending the University of Illinois, I had the great fortune to meet and befriend physicists from all over the country, many through my church community. One in particular became one of my best friends and I recall many times hanging out with buddies who were working on PhDs in physics, biology, microbiology, chemistry, and other fields. I rarely understood half of what they were talking about but when I caught onto a topic, I was elated, especially when I realised the connection between the models and theories they were discussing and my own chosen vocation. The only other physics class I have ever taken, though, was Physics 123, which was subtitled “Physics Made Easy for Elementary Grades.” We conducted experiments, many of which involved eggs, and I made more connections between theoretical physics and education.

One of the concepts of physics that I have thought about a lot is entropy. There are many misconceptions about entropy, but there are some fundamental principles that I see being made evident in the classroom. Essentially, entropy is the idea that systems will gravitate toward equilibrium, but that equilibrium is sometimes brought about by disorder. (I am surely oversimplifying the concept and I am positive that someone who knows much more about physics will be able to correct my errors, but I think the gist of it is accurate.) I see this idea of “order out of chaos” all the time as an elementary grade teacher, but I have seen it across the spectrum. Even in the leadership field, there is a notion that groups create order only after going through a tumultuous period of “storming” that eventually leads to “performing.” In my college classes, I was always fascinated by the way my classmates and I created a system of assigned seating that was never once enforced but always followed.

Today I saw this concept of order out of chaos perfectly modeled by my class during P.E. After doing our regular stretches and warm-ups, I allowed my students to use various rubber balls in the gym. The only rules I established were that they not kick the balls and they constantly looked around them to ensure everyone was safe at all times. Then I set them free to do as they would, watching the whole group closely, of course. Within minutes, the class had spontaneously gone from sheer chaos as students sought to get to the equipment to an amazing level or order! On one side of the gym was a volleyball game. On the other was a basketball game. A few students were creating their own games. But everyone was included, everyone was participating, and the chaos was turned into order!

Many teachers I know (myself included) describe teaching as “organised chaos.” Visitors to the school may hear loud noises, see a lot of hustle and bustle, and wonder what, if anything, the students are learning. But as one who is with them all day, every day, I can assure you that not despite the chaos but because of it, my students are learning, growing, and maturing day by day by day by day! Just keep in mind that this growth is rarely linear, but tends to resemble more, to borrow words from a favourite television show, “a wibbly-wobbly ball of timey-wimey stuff.”

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