OneThing15: learning to do something

Start with a Mental Model of Learning

Portion of Barry Richmond's model on Learning - focus here is on choices the thinker makes to SELECT, then REPRESENT, and then SIMULATE

A more complete version of Barry Richmond’s very helpful model was recently posted on the K-12 System Dynamics Discussion Group ( by Scott Guthrie (wizard teacher in Portland) as he spoke about engaging students in substantive work, and why so many students go to school begrudgingly.

As usual, Barry’s model told a full story, how learning unfolds in a context of a teacher in a classroom and students in their day-to-day experiences.  It’s worth a deeper look, I believe, so I have sliced out the Mental Modeling part – how students might learn things.

First, take in the boundary:  the stocks pertain only to the STUDENT – what’s going on inside the student’s mind. (Barry used a separate chain to represent “actions taken.”)  

Second, the blue chain focuses on a student’s first draft of an idea: of all the possible elements (place, words, what I wear, time, et al) needed for, say, asking a girl to the prom, what shall I select for how I ask her?  In the young student’s mind will be a host of related things to this ask, and he will represent a few elements in his mental model.

The incredibly awkward moment

Third, the first iteration of the ask, the wildly hopeful young boy will begin to simulate the mental model, playing over and over and over in his crazed head how asking Jane will go.  Various outcomes play in his head.  Of course, he rethinks – he selects different elements and he represents elements differently as, in his manic imagination, he asks and asks and asks Jane if she will go to the prom with him.

Fourth, and now continuously for a few weeks as the boy screws up his courage, the boy moves through this recursive process of selecting and representing and simulating images in his head. Over time, the Mental Model of asking Jane to the Prom becomes clearer and ever more perfect in his imagination.

A last note here . . . just replace “asking Jane to the Prom” with taking the bus to a new destination, writing the term paper on Huck Finn, determining the causes of the Great Depression, formulating a geometric proof with the correct theorem, and on ad infinitum.  Barry represented a universal process and made his thinking about it absolutely clear.

The big question, of course, is . . .  did Jane say, “yes”?  We’ll find out in the next Thing.


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