The Use of Metapatterns for Research into Complex Systems of Teaching, Learning, and Schooling— Part II: Applications

  • Jeffrey W. Bloom
  • Tyler Volk


In part I of this paper set, Volk and Bloom discuss the reasons why metapatterns are important in biological and cultural contexts. Here, in part II, we show how metapatterns can be applied to an important problem in qualitative educational research: the difficulties in elucidating fundamental patterns of interaction. In meeting this challenge we provide a metapatterns-based framework for analyzing and interpreting qualitative data. We begin by acknowledging the importance of context, the setting within which any system under investigation can be expected to exhibit metapatterns as functional components that are vital for the maintenance of that specific system within a particular context. We follow this discussion by defining three dimensions of our proposed analytical framework. The first dimension, which we call depth, examines the various metapatterns involved in the particular system under investigation. Extent is the second dimension, which involves extending to other contexts the interacting sets of metapatterns found in the investigation of depth. The third component is abstraction, which involves generating overarching principles or models from the analytical results of the first and second dimensions (i.e., depth and extent). We recommend that these three dimensions should be used recursively to meet the challenge named above. We demonstrate the framework through an example of a classroom discussion involving children arguing about the concept of density. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this analytical framework, along with a list of fundamental principles of this framework and a list of questions that can guide qualitative research.

Author Biographies

Jeffrey W. Bloom
Jeffrey W. Bloom is professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011. He specializes in elementary science education. His research interests involve complexity in thinking and learning, teaching for complex learning, and classroom and school communities. He can be reached at 928-523-0665. His personal website is at: His project website is the Exploring Science Site at:
Tyler Volk
Tyler Volk is associate professor of biology and science director of the environmental studies program at New York University. Address: Biology Department, 1009 Silver Center, 100 Washington Square East, New York University, New York, NY, 10003- 6688. He has a long-standing interest in the structures and functions of systems at all levels, and, in addition to the book Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind is the author of Gaia’s Body: Towards a Physiology of Earth and What is Death?: A Scientist Looks at the Cycles of Life. Phone: 212-998-3736. Website:
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