The complex classrooms of three award-winning Ontario high school physics teachers

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Roy, Suparna S.
Physics , Complexity , Curriculum , Self-organization , Emergence , Science , High school , Secondary , Ontario , Canada
Complexity theory investigates complex systems and how parts of a system give rise to collective behaviours. My thesis focuses upon the nature of the complex systems emerging within the classrooms of three award-winning high school physics teachers in Ontario. Using vignettes for each teacher and their classroom system, I have highlighted themes related to the emergence of collective behaviours. My interpretations found the first classroom collective agreeing to work towards academic excellence with the intention of achieving success in university. The second classroom collective was invested in relationship-building and used the resulting emphasis on teamwork and group-oriented learning to further physics understanding. The final classroom system was in the process of learning to grapple with discovering physics through following and contending with the results of their instincts. From a complex systems perspective, differences amongst teachers and students and different sets of interactions result in unique systems. Therefore, a single prescription for the emergence of certain collective behaviours is unlikely. The journal/commentary format traces my changing understandings of complexity thinking in education and how those understandings made an impact on the way I approached and reflected upon the observations of the study. As such, the thesis also documents shifts in perspectives highlighting the tensions felt between reductionist and complexivist thinking. Ultimately, complexity thinking illuminated how important it was to consider the teacher as part of the system instead of separated from it. Further issues relating to complex emergence and physics education that lead to greater pedagogical awareness are discussed.
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