Mental Models

As I have been exploring the use of technology to create more effective classroom environments, I have noticed a stark dichotomy in my teaching experience. One the one hand, I have facilitated dozens of independent study projects my gifted enrichment students. These projects were heavily dependent on using technology to gather, organize, and present data. On the other hand, I generally taught Algebra and Geometry with almost no use of digital technology.  We did  a lot of hands on projects with manipulates, measurement tools, etc., but the laptops stayed safely in the cart during math. 

So basically, I am comfortable with using technology to teach a process (project planning, research, organization, etc.), but I don’t instinctively use it to teach content.

Why is that?

The thing is, I am a pretty good teacher. I structure my planning to allow for a lot of exploration activities and real world applications. I am steadily increasing the amount of structured reflective activities that I use for myself and my students. I always assume that I can improve the lesson, or dig deeper, or make assessment more authentic and meaningful. I believe very strongly that students can and should self-select topics of interest to explore at a rigorous level. My entire enrichment program is predicated on that model, and it is commonly accepted as a best practice for working with gifted and high ability students.

And with all that, I am still operating from the framework of traditional instructional models. Teacher. Students. Textbook. Classroom. Even if I am really good within that model, and I can envision spending the rest of my career getting better and more innovative, there are still inherent limits. I am still driving the car, even if I know when to speed up and slow down and go the scenic route, everything has to filter through me.

I am the one that is in the way…but I am still the one that has to lead to way too.

I need to change my mental model. But along the way, I will need to address the mental models of my students, my parents, my administration. Not everyone is going to think it is a good idea (even the students).  Why rock the boat if everyone is “getting A’s?”  That is not an irrelevant question, and each stakeholder group wants a slightly different version of the same answer…because it is worth it to provide a meaningful and appropriately challenging education.

I think this also demonstrates to me the need for a strong professional learning community. I need to see, concretely and in detail, how others are implementing similar ideas, how well it is working, and how people are responding. The more that I explore the digital options that are available, and the vibrant community of teachers that are using them in the classrooms
(including math!), the more I am forced to accept the fact digital applications are the means to the end for both myself and my students.

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