This awesome video on the "Science of Synch" given by TED TALKS network by Steven Strogatz provides a fascinating introduction to this idea of simple rule and self-assembly.
When this activity was posted early in Module 4, I knew I wanted to try to do this with a group
of my students but was completely confused about what the goal was. After I watched the videos
posted in Module 6 and read more about flocking behavior, I got some sort of idea about what I
was looking for but was STILL CONFUSED (ha ha). I went ahead and met with my students
yesterday (Tuesday, July 22) after band camp. I was able to recruit 13 students who were
willing to work for free cookies!! I also thought the computer simulation was very cool and I
wanted to see if, indeed, the flock would “collapse” into one big ball like happened in the
computer simulation when the second algorithm was followed (A---YOU---B). Another
extension I tried was to apply the rule my students came up with to the computer simulation in
OPTION 2 to see if the same flock behavior materialized.
• Complete Option 1 Flocking Group Activity by following prompts as suggested in activity
• Run a computer simulation from Option 2 that matches the rules set by the group activity
from Option 1 and compare results; look for similarities and differences between the
computer simulation and live group interactions.
• Option 1:
• I met with my students July 22. Thirteen kids volunteered; I only had 1/2 hour to work
so I went pretty quickly. While they were finishing band camp, I set up the videos of
the birds flocking in a room nearby so I could show them on a large screen the videos
of starlings flocking a moving in those amazing patterns we all saw in Module 6. They
were pretty amazed!! I asked them if it seemed like any birds were running into each
other; they all agreed that they were not colliding but somehow still moved as one. (I
wish I would have asked them if there seemed to be a leader..I did not ask this
question; this seems to be the main point and I did not have time to discuss this
with them..i went so fast!!)
• After showing the flocking videos, I told the kids that I wanted them to pretend they are
birds moving. (I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea..just went with it). I told them that
I was going to take them into the gym and have them pretend they are birds and that
one of them was a predator. They were to pick TWO PEOPLE (discretely and
randomly) and pick one as A and one as B. I told them that the first round they had to
pretend that person B was the predator and person A was the protector..they had to keep
themselves aligned like this (I DREW THIS ON BOARD IN CLASSROOM:
• YOU-----person A------person B
I then told them that in the second round they had to pick new persons A and B
(discretely and randomly) and this time that had to keep themselves between A
and B (I drew this on the board:
• Person A------YOU-------person B
• I moved the students to the gym. I really wasn’t too confident that I was doing this
right but I had them start out sort of spread out. Asked them to choose their persons A
and B and on the sound of GO I had them pretend B was the predator and A was their
protector and to orient themselves so A was between them and B.
• TRIAL ONE
HERE IS THE YOU TUBE VIDEO OF MY FIRST ROUND WITH THE
CONFIGURATION : YOU------person A------person B
If you hear my voice, I think I might be leading too much or saying too much; wasn’t
sure If I was doing this right but what is cool about this first trial with the YOU--A--B
orientation is that the flock seemed to move in a swarm, continuous circling motion and
once in a while, one member would move out and the swarm followed...very cool.
Looked like the motion I saw in the bird video; where spontaneously, the flock would
switch directions and still move in a circular motion, in a new general direction. If you
watch the video again, you can kind of see this happening
YOU TUBE VIDEO LINK PART 2
This was the coolest....just like predicted by the readings, the student flock collapsed,
(imploded) on itself. I was so excited!! You can hear my voice in the video. Very, very
cool!! The whole circle just fell into itself!!
rushed here; I only had about 1/2 hour with the kids. I was trying to give them some
ideas..the seniors suggested that we keep five foot distance between students. I had them
show what five feet looks like (the floor joints are cut in one foot sections).
• Here is the video clip of the kids with the FIVE FOOT DISTANCE RULE keeping the A---
YOU---B configuration. (I wasn’t sure if I should keep the A----YOU----B, so I just went
with this and added the five foot rule). HERE IS THE YOU TUBE VIDEO WITH
FIVE FOOT RULE ADDED WITH THE A----YOU-----B configuration.
it appeared that initially, the flock expanded and contracted while still maintaining a
circular motion. Towards the end it seemed that they all came to a stop in the middle
(imploded) because they all stopped moving. I wasn’t sure if that had to be a rule..
DID EVERYONE HAVE TO CONTINUE TO MOVE? I might not have been very clear
on this but the five foot rule definitely prolonged the time it took before the flock
I must admit that I was totally excited when the flock collapsed, as predicted from the reading,
when the students followed the A----YOU----B configuration. (Just like in the computer link
simulation in OPTION 1 prompts)! THIS WAS SO COOL. I was truly surprised to see the
student flock moving in a constant circular motion..really interesting. The following is a brief
summary of what I experienced in this exercise: Here I am using the bullet list from the OPTION
1 prompt as a guide to organize my thoughts.
• Simple rules of individual behavior can lead to surprisingly coherent system level results.
• This was demonstrated in all of the exercises in the videos I posted. Some extremely basic
rules resulted in a swirling pattern of motion that was sustained within the small group of
students I worked with. Over time, the motion stopped because the kids didn’t know what
to do; had I had more time, I could have repeated each rule set and had explicit instructions
that they must keep moving...wish I had more time with them. THE COHESION was very
apparent; the swarm seemed to stay together by simply following one rule of position.
• Small changes in rules or in the way they are applied can have significant impact on the system level results.
• This idea was demonstrated in my “FIVE-FOOT-RULE” video from above. Here, the kids
kept the A-----YOU-------B rule but added the five foot distance. The swarm did not
immediately collapse as did before, but seemed to keep moving and expand and collapse,
and expand and collapse. At the end, the flock collapsed and this was because the stopped
moving. If I had more time, I would have a discussion and ask them to come up with some
rule to prevent the collapse. you can see in the video that they all clumped together in the
end but THE WERE NOT FOLLOWING THE FIVE FOOT RULE (they came to close;
broke the rule).
• Intuition can be a particularly poor guide to prediction of the behavior of complex systems above a few levels of complexity.
• I am not 100% sure if this angle is a good analogy for this prompt but I could not predict
which way the student swarm would move, not the speed or size. The swarm seemed to
expand and contract and swirl in a direction that I could not predict, nor did I know which
student “bird” would lead the flock in one direction. Some of the boys in the video seem to
be leading the flock to the center, but not all of the time.
• Simulation is a powerful tool for understanding the dynamics of complex systems.
• I now know how true this is. The Option 1 reading has a link to the article article about
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES and how they used ants to model boarding behaviors. I found
this absolutely fascinating how models of ant behavior can be used to predict best boarding
practices in human platforms.1 After seeing my student swarm collapse following one basic
rule, I began to think of the famous mathematician, NASH who used the random movments
of pigeons to write the famous Game Theory algorithm. (I found an article from Journal of
Experimental Behavior that uses Nash Theory and Pigeons..CRAZY..http://
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2648521/). After seeing my student flock
behave (implode) as predicted I was fascinated. I can see how a mathematician would
devote much time observing seemingly random patterns in natural systems to develop a
model that can be applied to an manmade system to secure some average outcome, or at
least predict an overall response (like boarding a plane quickly, outcomes of bets, ect).
Answers to Questions:
• Did the rules work right away? In the first two videos, the rules seemed to work quickly, but
when the students added the distance rule, it took a few moments before the students got used
to the rule and at the end of the segment, they started to come back togther again. I NEEDED
TO REPEAT but did not have time.
• Did they break down or begin to work over time? Added rules seemed to increase and
decrease overtime like a BELL curve..mainly I think because my kids became confused or tired
• Modify and/or add rules and restart the simulation. I did not have time to repeat or
modify..the kids were on a time schedule.
• Were the rules adequate to generate flocking behavior or did people start improvising?
Some people starting improvising by running faster or stopping..I did not tell them how fast or
slow to move; this would have been a great rule to add but I ran out of time.
• Which rules were the most important or effective? The distance rule was definitely effective
at delaying the time in took for the flock to implode when following the A----YOU----B
• Can we drop a rule and still get flocking behavior? I don’t think I did enough trials to
answer this question. I could not drop the distance rule or the flock would eventually collapse
into itself...so far, this is the only rule I added.
• Would the rules be adequate to avoid a stationary obstacle? What about a predator? I
wish I had time to be the predator and jump in to see how they would react. MY GAME would
NOT be good enough for a predator. I would need to develop more rules.
I originally planned on running the OPTION 2 computer with the same rules my students
came up with. I am still going to do this but I am running out of time for this posting.
Will add when I finsih.
1"An Excerpt from The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller." Mission to Learn Lifelong Learning Blog
RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2014. <http://www.missiontolearn.com/book-excerpts/smart-swarm/