"In math, we're traveling around the world," says sixth-grader Rocco Rose, a student at Quest to Learn and a citizen of Creepytown — an imaginary city where his class learns math and English. The students play travel agents, convert currencies, keep blogs about their travel experiences and budget trips.
Creepytown is structured like a video game that has jumped out of the computer. During their 10-week "missions," students learn to adapt and improvise.
"The second trimester, Creepytown went broke," Salen says. "They had ... an economic crisis. So the kids worked to figure out ... what had gone wrong. And then they proposed the design of a theme park to bring revenue in."
Salen says playing with complex dynamic systems gives kids opportunities to learn.
Students "learn how to solve problems, how to communicate, how to use data, how to begin to predict things that might be coming down the line," she says.
They also learn something called systems thinking, which Salen says is one of the cornerstones of 21st century literacy. It helps you understand how the behavior of a derivatives trader in Hong Kong affects housing prices in Florida. When a system becomes sufficiently complex, Salen says, you start to get outcomes that are hard to foresee.
"Suddenly you begin to get what's called emergent behavior, and in emergent behavior, that system, the elements in it, begin to relate to one another in ways that can be unpredictable," she says.
Hell yeah! If we can give the next generation early experience with complex systems and unintended consequences, there may be hope for the future yet.