Overview – 0 – Mental Models for Education

Decision making is tough.  We are riddled with cognitive biases, from action bias to the halo effect and sunken cost fallacy.  They seem contrived only to make us terrible decision makers.

Teachers, HoDs, Heads, all need to make decisions.

Shall I tick ‘n flick those books?  Or write comments?  Or do neither and go to bed?

Should the department invest most of Year 7 studying number, or dedicate equal time to geometry, algebra and stats?  Shall we study Skellig, or Oliver Twist?

Should I implement that new initiative, or not?  Should I spend money on one experienced hire, three trainee teachers, or four teaching assistants?

Mental models: you could call them strategies, or lenses, or filters, or heuristics – whatever you call them, they are simple tools designed to aid decision making.  As I moved through the last five years in education there were times I desperately wished some mental models I’d encountered in my former life were widely known and understood in education.  Once known, the absurdity of some of the decisions we make is revealed.  If not the absurdity, then the very real costs, or the risks, that otherwise remain hidden, and go unnoticed.

So I’m going to chuck a few out there, and see what people make of them.  Some you will have heard of, others will probably be new.

To start with, I’m going to try to cover the following, over the next few weeks:

  1. Effort:Impact Ratio
  2. Opportunity Cost
  3. Money Value of Time
  4. Cost-Benefit Analysis
  5. The 80:20 Principle
  6. Objective Oriented Mindset
  7. MECE (pronounced Mee-See)

About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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3 Responses to Overview – 0 – Mental Models for Education

  1. Victor Minkov says:

    I look forward to your musings, Kris!

    In D. Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, he talks about the loss aversion heuristic – the idea that we are primally programmed to privilege threats above opportunities i.e. we are driven more strongly to avoid losses than to achieve gains.

    I’ve tried to incorporate this into my classroom rewards system by (first beginning with the talk that knowledge = power, hard work = choices later in life/happiness etc etc) telling them I will give them all 2 vivos per lesson as a gesture of appreciation for a job well done, then show them what that means for every lesson over a 3 year period (how long I have them), and what it looks like if they make this deal with all of their teachers (you could buy an acoustic guitar/iPod/etc from the vivo shop). Then I tell them how to keep the points – by meeting high expectations and giving their best every moment of every lesson etc.

    This is my first year trying it and it seems to work well for those that are interested. It’s also easier to manage ONLY demerits. We do props and some other minor rewards (un-administrated) that keep the option of carrot as well.

    • Kris Boulton says:

      Sounds like a reasonable system. I always tried to think about loss-aversion in rhetoric and reward systems… but eventually I found myself trying to steer away from a focus on extrinsic systems and more towards trying to get the teaching right. I was so, so bad in the beginning that I reasoned surely pupils would show greater interest and motivation if they felt they were going to learn something by the end! This was partly guided by my mentor, who, as usually, was absolutely spot on.

      I still have a passing interest in things like loss-aversion, though, and gamification, something I dedicated a lot of thought to in my first year.

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