These days, in our ever complex society, it's becoming increasingly important to be able to think critically, in particular with young minds that can be easily molded. Understanding cognitive biases, logical fallacies and mental models at an early age may well give them and us the hope of a better and brighter future. The DecisionMaking Blueprint by Patrik Edblad lists 45 of these important tools, though I will only focus on several that young learners in particular struggle with. The status quo bias and the homeostasis model work hand in hand with many students. The status quo bias is the tendency to prefer things stay the same, while homeostasis is the state of a system that wants to maintain internal stability. For example, kids who say they don't like art or PE or math, continue to maintain that viewpoint. This could have come about because of confirmation bias, where people tend to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs. So if a student does poorly on a math quiz, that confirms the "fact" that they are poor at math. All of these ways of thinking run counter to the growth mindset, where effort and dedication will lead to success, which is what teachers try to instill in learners. Connected to this idea is that of compounding. Most kids have trouble seeing too far into their future, but modest gains on a daily or weekly basis can achieve dramatic results, according to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. If you memorize your times tables 5 minutes, 3 times a week, for one week, the results might be negligible. However, if you maintain that for a whole year, then you will probably memorize them quite easily. In some cases, students suffer from the DunningKruger Effect, which is the tendency to be more confident the less you know. "If you're incompetent, you can't know you're incompetent," says David Dunning. I think the simple graphic organizer, KWL, helps visualize the gaps in learning. Also, the W, which represents "want" is critical. What do students want to learn? Curiosity is one of the main bulwarks to remaining ignorant or incompetent. Young kids also suffer from selfserving bias. For example, if a student gets a good mark, it's because of their effort or intelligence, but if they do poorly, it's because of the tough teacher or unfair tests. This goes handinhand with the fundamental attribution error: when someone else makes a mistake, it's their fault entirely, but when you make an error, it's due to circumstance. A classic example would be if you hit a student in the head with a dodgeball; it was an accident and the ball slipped out of your hand or they ducked at the inopportune time. But if they hit you in the head, it was intentional and meanspirited. This aptly segways into Hanlon's Razor (a subset of Occam's Razor), which is to never attribute to malice what can be explained by neglect. However, when you listen to countless arguments between kids, this is often the mental model that they base their thinking on. In addition, the availability bias, is a contributing factorbasing our judgments on what easily comes to mind. Kids (along with adults) often keep a mental record of all the wrongs done to them. Instead of a pattern of behavior, Hanlon's Razor would treat each as an isolated occurrence. The 80/20 Principle, developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the late 1800s, has proven to be a valuable principle todayessentially that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It would be wise and valuable to figure out what that 20% is in the classroom, which would result in 80% of the learning. It could be the basics of the curriculumreading, writing and math; or it could be instilling curiosity, hard work, passion, selfdirected learning, and the growth mindset. Or maybe which 20% of the students need the most support. Or something entirely different in another classroom. On a final note, of course there are caveats for all of these biases, logical fallacies and mental models. Sometimes the opposite can be true. They are not 100% accurate all the time, so treat them as principles or guidelines, not laws or commandments. Source: The DecisionMaking Blueprint, Patrik Edblad, 2019
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Benefits of curiosity:
How to maintain curiosity? Role models are important. In an experiment with kindergarten children behind oneway glass, they saw their parents do one of three things: 1) play with objects on a table; 2) look at the table; 3) ignore the objects as they chatted. Later on, the children whose parents touched the objects did so themselves when given the opportunity. Children want to talk; they just need the opportunity. Dinner table conversations also varied the amount of questions by the child. Of course, the more interest and openended questions resulted in a more curious and engaged child, compared to kids whose parents simply told them the "answers." Interestingly, toddlers may ask up to 26 questions per hour at home but just two per hour at school. Even worse, a researcher often observed during grade 5 lessons that two hours would pass without a single expression of active interest by students. On a surprising note, the expression of interest is directly correlated to the number of times a teacher smiles during the lesson. Growth Mindset In 2016, a study in Chile with 10th graders showed that the poorest children with a growth mindset performed at well as the richest children in the sample. In other words, a growth mindset may be able to compensate for many of the builtin disadvantages of being poor. Even for someone whose genius seems almost "magical," Nobelprize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, made his groundbreaking discovery when he decided to just have fun and play and experiment with questions he personally was interested in. It was this renewed curious mindset that led him to watch a man in the Cornell cafeteria throw, spin and catch plates in the air. He connected that with an electron's orbit, which eventually led to his theory of quantum electrodynamics. Feynman also acknowledges all the blood, sweat and tears (and drudgery) needed to achieve his accomplishments. Source: The Intelligence Trap, David Robson, 2019 Too often in math class, mathematically interested students are shut down in class, often by wellmeaning teachers who either don't know the underlying mathematical concept, feel publicly challenged, see math as a set of rules and formulas, or perhaps are on a tight schedule to "cover" the curriculum. Most mathematicians feel mathematics is not so much being obedient to a set of fixed rules and regulations, but rather using creativity and risk taking to solve elegant problems. Paul Lockhart, mathematician, says, "Math is not about following directions, it's about making new directions." They are most intrigued and challenged by unsolved or open problems. This requires taking risks, something you might not attribute to learning/teaching math. Mathematician James Tanton says, "Math is being able to engage in joyful intellectual playand being willing to flail (even fail!)." Zager talks about the joy children experience when discovering or realizing new mathematical understanding in their everyday lives. It doesn't matter to them if a mathematical law or property already exists in some math textbook. In a grade two class, Zager observes a math lesson and notices several things. First, the teacher uses wait time, wanting deep thinking and thoughtfulness, not simple ideas and speed. Also, she keeps students focussed on mathematical thinking, not unrelated matters. The teacher makes sure they are using specific and clear mathematical language. Finally, she teaches students to challenge themselves and take risks. PROMOTING OBEDIENCE VS. ENCOURAGING RISK Obedience: Memorizing algorithms is necessary. "What's the rule about adding fractions?" Risk: Different ways to solve problems exist; try to figure out which work best. "That's an interesting approach. Will it work all the time? Show your work in a way people can follow." Obedience: Smart and easy are common words. Speed is key. "Wow, that was fast! You must be smart!" Risk: Challenge and try are common words. "This problem is really interesting. Nice job, you really tried hard! I have a challenge for you today." Obedience: Students speak up when they know the answer. Risk: Students speak when they have a question, notice something, have an idea, build on a student's thinking, agree or disagree, or have an answer. Obedience: Students are passive and do what they're supposed to. Risk: Students are encouraged to takes risks and expect them to come up with novel ideas. "You might be inspired by Alvin's example. Is there a volunteer to try? We will help." Source: Zager, Tracy Johnston, Becoming the math teacher you wish you'd had, 2017 
Daniel H. LeeThis blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices. Categories
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