What (or Who) Is Chaos? The Problem with Scientific Words
Posted: Monday, November 4th, 2013
by David Pummill
My granddaughters have a cousin named Chaos. They asked me what his name means and the teacher in me prompted me to ask, “Did you look it up?” This resulted in dragging out the huge dictionary and we discovered that “chaos” can have many definitions. In fact, many words have a specialized meaning in science contexts that is quite different than their meaning in everyday use.
Often students and teachers begin looking for an answer to question like, “what does chaos mean?” by searching the Internet. They often find a multitude of sources of information. For example, Google yields 169,000,000 results in answer to the question. Most of us would say that’s too much information, yet still find 22,400,000 results in answer to what we thought was a more scientific question, “what is chaos theory?” Refining the search to “what is chaos theory in science” we get only 10,200,000 hits–noticing, by the way, that there is “chaos theory” in specific reference to nursing, psychology, leadership, and business, too! Some know to search Google Scholar and can narrow down the citations to 1,220,000. Searching just for abstracts of articles added in 2013, only 108 results appear! (Since I love Googling and I love numbers, please excuse my not editing out most of this paragraph!)
In all this Googling one may come upon an online course, “What Is Chaos?” by Dr. Matthew A. Trump of the Ilya Prigogine Center for Studies in Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems at the University of Texas, Austin. In the introduction to his course Dr. Trump promises, “a useful and entertaining way to learn about one of the most exciting topics in physical science.” He goes on to say that in physics, chaos is a word with a specialized meaning that differs from that of the everyday use of the word. Hence, this is a great example of the problem with scientific words.
When a teacher declares that she cannot endure chaos in her classroom, what does she mean? Is she referring to the character in mythology? Does she mean a type of giant amoeba or a Trans-Neptunian Kuiper belt object? Or, it might simply be the state of general disorder and confusion that exists with 30 to 40 students in a room designed to house only 20.
What about meaning of “chaos” in the realm of science? The following is gleaned from the website “Chaos and Fractals” in response to the question, “What Is Chaos?”
In everyday language “chaos” implies the existence of unpredictable or random behavior. The word usually carries a negative connotation involving undesirable disorganization or confusion. However, in the scientific realm this unpredictable behavior is not necessarily undesirable. The scientific meaning of chaos can be summed up in the following statement:
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.” – Henry Adams
Chaos is indeterminism at its best — a concept totally foreign and unwelcome in Laplace’s world (see Laplace’s Demon). The scientific usage of the word was first coined by Yorke and Li in their ground breaking paper, “Period Three Implies Chaos (1975),” in which they described particular flows as chaotic.
In short, chaos embodies three important principles:
- extreme sensitivity to initial conditions
- cause and effect are not proportional (!)
“Laplace’s Demon” concerns the idea of determinism, namely the belief that the past completely determines the future. The world of science used to define the universe in this way. Now things are more chaotic. If the interplay between determinism and indeterminism is just too much to bear consider this:
Simply put, “chaos is the science of surprises.” http://fractalfoundation.org/resources/what-is-chaos-theory/(link no longer active)
I think I am going to tell my granddaughters this definition of “chaos” because they have been given the idea that science is about making predictions and trying to find out if they are correct. I hope they can learn that science is less about being correct and more about finding out. The teacher who cannot stand chaos may be referring to the state of his classroom, or to the surprises of science, or, in a few years, to that new student named Chaos.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…