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Understanding and Mastering Complexity

Information Age Education is pleased to announce a new, 96-page free book.

Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (March, 2014). Understanding and Mastering Complexity. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from Download the Microsoft Word file from

The 16-chapter book emerged from a series of articles recently published in the free newsletter:

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R., eds. Information Age Education Newsletter. Biweekly since August, 2008. Access at

The following excerpt and the chapter/author list will give you a sense of the book’s content.

Preface and Overview

“People are very complex. And for a psychologist, you get fascinated by the complexity of human beings, and that is what I have lived with…all of my life, is the complexity of human beings.” (Daniel Kahneman; Israeli-American psychologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic; 1934-.)

“Technical skill is mastery of complexity, while creativity is mastery of simplicity.” (Erik Christopher Zeeman; Japanese-born British mathematician; 1925‑.)

We humans are very complex, and we live in a very complex world. Our informal and formal educational systems, and our everyday life experiences, help us learn to deal with the complexities of complexity.

Humans are innately lifelong learners and lifelong teachers. In our interactions with each other and our environments, we learn from each other and from the environment. We are naturally curious, and this curiosity leads us to seek answers to complex questions and problems. Through oral tradition, reading and writing, and now much more complex technology such as computers, the Web, and the Internet, we accumulate information, knowledge, and skills, and pass them on to our children.

This book is intended for use in both informal and formal educational settings. All teachers deal both with the general complexities of teaching and with the specific content complexities in the areas they teach. All adults deal with the day-to-day complexities of life in our rapidly changing world. Parents have the added complexities of raising children. (And, we all face the complexities of dealing with parents who are not raising their children in a manner that we think is appropriate.) Some personal stories of learning about and dealing with complexities are included. There also is an introduction to some of the current research literature related to complexity in teaching and learning.

Chapters and Authors

1.            An Introduction to Complexity (David Moursund)

2.            An Eight-year-old Discovers Football (Lawrence Sylwester)

3.            What I Learned from Learning to Play DragonVale, a Complex Online Game (David Moursund)

4.            How a Child Learns to Read (Marilee Sprenger)

5.            Co-constructed Learning Enhances Understanding (Jessie Cruickshank and Jeb Schenck)

6.            Spontaneously Clarifying Complexity (Michael Rousell)

7.            The Central Roles of the Varieties of Analogy (Robert Sylwester)

8.            The Role of Caricature (Robert Sylwester)

9.            The Complexity of Humor (Shirley Trout)

10.            Using Theatre Education as Sophisticated Play and to Embody Cognition (Xan Johnson)

11.            Musings about Strange Attractors (Bob Sitze)

12.            Knowledge Theory and Education (Mark Gall)

13.            Understanding Our Brain and Applying that Knowledge (Robert Sylwester)

14.            Embracing the Complexity of Mind, Brain, and Education (Abigail Larrison)

15.            The Five New Cognitive Complexities that Teachers Confront (Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers)

16.            The Reverse: Late Life Decline (Robert Sylwester)

The book also contains an extensive collection of references.

Three additional free books edited by Moursund and Sylwester are available at To access all of the free materials from IAE, go to

What You Can Do

All teachers are faced by the very complex task of helping students learn. Download a copy of the book and browse the chapter titles. Select one that looks like it may pique your interests. Read it to see if it has relevance to you and/or your students. Repeat this process several times, until you get a “feel” for different ways of thinking about complexity. We live in a very complex and rapidly changing world, and in many ways our lives and those of our students are becoming increasingly complex due to these changes.

Suggested Readings from IAE

Morrison, M.K. (December, 2013). Using humor to maximize learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from

Moursund, D. (June, 2013). 21st century schools. IAE Blog. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from

Moursund, D. (September, 2013). Thinking and acting globally. IAE Blog. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from

Moursund, D. (September, 2014). Educating students for their possible futures. IAE Blog. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from, D. (n.d.). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from

Moursund, D. (n.d.). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/26/2014 from

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