Diving into Complexity: Developing Probabilistic Decentralized Thinking through Role-Playing Activities

Mitchel Resnick, Uri Wilensky


There is a growing interest in role-playing activities, both in school classrooms and in the culture at large. Despite this growing interest, role-playing activities are rare in mathematics and science classrooms. In social-studies activities, a major goal is to help students adopt the perspective of another person. However, mathematics and science classes typically discourage this type of perspective-taking; science is usually taught as a process of detached observation and analysis of phenomena, not active participation within phenomena. In this article, we argue that role-playing activities can play a powerful role in mathematics and science education - particularly in the study of the new sciences of complexity. We present detailed descriptions and analyses of 2 role-playing activities that we have organized. Each activity is designed to help students explore (in a very participatory way) the behaviors of complex systems, helping them develop better intuitions on how complex phenomena can arise from simple interactions, and predictable patterns from random events.

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