Shifting scales at Thrush High School

Hands on in-house detention system at Thrush High

So today we made a long list of potential systems you could model with a modelling play: everything from a prison to a national park to a travelling circus to a submarine. Then this afternoon we made some games to play. Nathan, Nikki and Muttley constructed an airport simulation entitled Throwing Care To The Wind, in which the participants guide a first-time airport traveler (Shane) through the confusion of check-in, security, duty-free and boarding gates. The intent of this game was to explore a system from within – experiencing the airport from the perspective of a traveler before looking at it from a top-down managerial perspective. Meanwhile Rachel and I made a school simulator entitled Thrush High School.

The major point of Thrush High School was that it took place on two levels. At the classroom level, the participants made choice about a teacher’s lesson plan. They allocated resources across a range of vectors, affecting the teacher’s experience, charisma, the technology available to them, the size of the classroom and a selection of other factors. Then Rachel (aka Ms Roberts) presented the class that they had engineered.

The next stage was to shift up a scale and look at the school from the perspective of the Board of Directors, making sweeping decisions about policy, direction and infrastructure that would shift the entire school’s outlook. Then we zoomed back in to the classroom to see the impact of these choices on the teacher and her class.

There were a lot of problems with the delivery of the game, mostly because there were very few positive outcomes (Thrush High’s Friday assembly ended in a riot when the gifted and talented student read out a poem upon receiving his scholarship to a special Maths Camp), but there’s something valuable (I think) in having this shifting scales while looking at a model. One of the major lessons from looking at systems through models is that frequently the biggest impacts on systems come from other systems operating at different scales – lots of small changes bubbling up from smaller-scale systems, or big sweeping changes dropping down from larger-scale systems. The school board might not be the best way to represent a bigger system, but something of that focus shift would be great to include.

My question for the day is, how can we show different and interacting scales without losing the audiences’ interest or focus?

– David F


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