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The Butterfly Effect

by Steve Saville and Rebecca Thomas

'Her chaos made her beautiful.'

- Atticus

Chaos is a terrible word to describe anything. It’s not beautiful to fall apart. Chaos is raw and real, it’s our worst day.

Mathematics and mechanics describe Chaos Theory is the study of random unpredictable behaviour in systems governed by deterministic laws.

The media is certainly showcasing ‘chaos theory’ for education in 2023. It began in a flurry of new year conversations as educators turned their attention to Chat GPT. On our social media channels and blogs we began second guessing what the butterfly effect of this new tool may have for our classrooms, workloads, assessment systems and values.

Then came the rain in Auckland with devastating force, to which our hearts and thoughts pour out to any affected families. Sadly, just as schools were about to open their doors to thousands of students ready for a hopeful year with uninterrupted learning experiences, it was quickly shut; replaced by the non relational greetings of distance learning once more.


Look further ahead to Easter now. We know this is tricky. But we all know that these times will pass so there is always a need to keep an eye on the future while we deal with the present.

Imagine if we used this chaos as a rich learning opportunity. Imagine if the devastation caused us to build stronger community bonds. Imagine if it was the chaos that made new learning beautiful.

I have no doubt that kaiako will ensure their students are a big part of their local community moving forward. Undoubtedly, they will inspire their students to repaint, rebuild, volunteer, work with whānau, write letters and support the worst affected. They might even encourage the use of ChatGPT to help with ideas of revival.

Below are just a few pointers that might give some comfort to those agile teachers and leaders now planning/re-planning the start of Term 1.

#1 Tune In (empathise)

In the early days, capture what and how your students have reacted to the flooding and/or the emergence of more sophisticated AI in education. Spend time listening to them. Encourage the use of artwork, music, letter writing, digital media to capture their stories. Take a good period of time to listen, not just one recount session or afternoon, take their voices seriously.

Be aware of cumulative effects on some of our learners. The build up of anxieties from Covid may still just be bubbling under the surface and an event like the weekend’s devastation could be the trigger that brings all of those feelings to the surface.

#2 Define

After listening, define a problem statement together based on empathy for the group's experiences. E.g. The floods that ruined Pukekohe farms will have an impact on rising food prices this season, what can we do to help?

#3 Iterate

Generate a contextual problem solving approach to the chaos that reflects what is happening in the local community. These students from Lincoln University last year did exactly that to reduce their stress and worry after floods in Marlborough. If the Pukekohe farm disruption was your reality maybe a student written recipe book that uses alternative ingredients/budgets could be a practical solution.

# 4 Test

Invite the students to then test their iteration with the very people whom the defined problem statement connected to. Hearing the real audience’s opinions will support your students to realise not only the impact of their iteration, but the audience's feedback will also give them the perspective and realisation that designers make things for ‘others’, not themselves.

# 5 Reflect

Reflect on the learning, the way the y wove the curriculum together, the new friends that they may have been made. Spending time reflecting on the process is more worthy than moving on quickly to the next thing. What did this chaos teach us? What beauty did they see?

Small things can have a big impact. We are deeply connected with the world and interconnected with each other. Let your students' wings beating together be the support that someone else needs to move forward.

'What good are wings without the courage to fly.'

- Atticus

More engaging blogs can be read here

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