The Great Mental Models High School Project
Invite the mental models into your classroom to help students make better decisions, improve communication, and make sense of the world around them.
Powerful and flexible mental models have been used throughout history to solve complex problems and provide a foundation for critical thinking and skilled decision-making.
All because they change the way people see and interpret reality.
The High School Project brings these mental models to the people who need it most– students who are working to make sense of the world around them. Equipped with these mental models, students can question their reality and begin to make decisions for themselves, understand consequences, and ultimately move forward with confidence.
What is The High School Project?
The High School Project is an immersive experience for high school teachers and the students they teach. Teachers receive instructions on how to implement the mental models in the classroom, while students benefit from the lessons.
Our mission is to improve the lives of young people by teaching students to navigate a complicated world through mental models in order to consistently make high-quality decisions.
Our behavior transfers knowledge into action. Our repeated actions become habits. Our goal is to create automatic habits that set teachers and students on the path to success. When great thinking becomes habitual, the payoff becomes exponential.
Interactive training for teachers to both think and teach in terms of mental models.
The Great Mental Models V1 textbook and standards-based curriculum to further thinking at the high school level.
46 engaging, student-centered, project-based lesson plans based on the book.
Student journals that align with lesson plans to be used as a tool for deep thinking, topic-based writing, reflecting, and as a timeless resource.
Teacher journals that help instructors reflect on the lessons, record student progress, and create notes for the future.
Why a high school teacher saw the need for mental models in the classroom
The High School Project is led by a former high school English teacher who has watched her students grapple with decision-making. In a complicated world, she’s seen them make decisions without considering why. Sometimes, she witnessed students lacking the ability to make decisions at all.
Working with lead author of The Great Mental Models book series, they have created an educational program with the hopes of upgrading the way students think.
Why use the High School Project?
The High School Project’s high-level curriculum is creative, interactive, and based in the real world. The program inspires thoughtful decision-making at a time when teenagers need it the most. Upon completing the coursework, teachers and students will have the tools to face both obstacles and opportunities, which will benefit them over a lifetime.
- Use mental models to gain insight and make decisions that lead to a happier and more successful life at an earlier age. Students will learn how to explore problems in a three-dimensional way, improving the quality of their decision-making.
- Promote project-based learning. The High School Project allows students to choose projects that reflect their interests both inside and outside of school, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to these projects.
- Teach real-world skills and applications. Students are exposed to tools they can refer to in varying situations at any level of job or career. The lessons teach lifelong thinking skills that can be applied throughout the student’s life.
- Allow for student-centered discussions and learning. Within a structured process, students can collaborate and discuss. Their voices are encouraged and celebrated within the classroom setting.
- Expand equity-based learning opportunities. The High School Project’s empowered approach impacts student thinking in all school districts, regardless of their ranking or location.
Apply 9 mental models to any subject or lesson
The Map is not the Territory – The map of reality is not reality. Even the best maps are imperfect. If a map were to represent the territory with perfect fidelity, it would no longer be a reduction and thus would no longer be useful to us. This is important to keep in mind as we think through problems and make better decisions.
Circle of Competence – If you know what you understand, you know where you have an edge over others. When you are honest about where your knowledge is lacking you know where you are vulnerable and where you can improve. Understanding your circle of competence improves decision making and outcomes.
First Principles Thinking – First Principles Thinking is a tool to help clarify complicated problems by separating the underlying ideas or facts from any assumptions based on them. What remain are the essentials. If you know the first principles of something, you can build the rest of your knowledge around them to produce something new.
Thought Experiment – Thought experiments can be defined as “devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” Thought experiments are powerful because they help us learn from our mistakes and avoid future ones. They let us take on the impossible, evaluate the potential consequences of our actions, and re-examine history to make better decisions.
Second-Order Thinking – Almost everyone can anticipate the immediate results of their actions. This type of first-order thinking is easy and safe but it’s also a way to ensure you get the same results that everyone else gets. Second-order thinking is thinking farther ahead and thinking holistically. It requires us to not only consider our actions and their immediate consequences, but the subsequent effects of those actions as well.
Probabilistic Thinking – Probabilistic thinking is essentially trying to estimate, using some tools of math and logic, the likelihood of any specific outcome coming to pass. It is one of the best tools we have to improve the accuracy of our decisions. In a world where each moment is determined by an infinitely complex set of factors, probabilistic thinking helps us identify the most likely outcomes. When we know these our decisions can be more precise and effective.
Inversion – Inversion helps you identify and remove obstacles to success. The root of inversion is “invert,” which means to upend or turn upside down. As a thinking tool it means approaching a situation from the opposite end of the natural starting point. Most of us tend to think one way about a problem: forward. Inversion allows us to flip the problem around and think backward.
Occam’s Razor – Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones. This is the essence of Occam’s Razor, a classic principle of logic and problem-solving. Instead of wasting your time trying to disprove complex scenarios, you can make decisions more confidently by basing them on the explanation that has the fewest moving parts.
Hanlon’s Razor – Hanlon’s Razor states that we should not attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. In a complex world, using this model helps us avoid paranoia and ideology. By not generally assuming that bad results are the fault of a bad actor, we look for options instead of missing opportunities. This model reminds us that people do make mistakes.
Teachers are seeing the impact…
The High School Project saw sweeping success at Bartram Trail High School and is currently being piloted at The Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas.
“By sharing this project with us, you have all opened the minds and hearts of my students in ways I didn’t know were possible. You further inspired passionate teaching through a progressive approach to helping students learn in real-world contexts. Of course, I am most grateful for the creativity and critical thinking this project led to, as well as the conversations amongst families and peers that changed student’s mindset, opened their world view and inspired deep connection amongst us all.”
– Alyssa Tobias, M.Ed., 12th Grade English & Creative Writing Teacher
“As we went through the lessons each day, I could see the increasing value. I saw my students becoming more comfortable, more vocal. I saw their wheels turning as they used mental models to think through different concepts. Most importantly, I got to know their personalities quickly.
Almost as vital – I saw how creative they still are. They had so many ideas on how to improve their environment – some of them brilliant. Not only did I learn who they are as people, I saw the value of their contributions. Something that always bothers me about the way adults interact with teens is that they dismiss their voices, thinking they are just silly teenagers. As a high school teacher, I of course see the value in their voices, in their intellect – and this unit of the Great Mental Models brings those elements to the surface.
– Kathryn Clark, High School English Teacher
“The second lesson continued our study of probability with a focus on “Black Swan Events.” The English IV students were presented with a relevant scenario where they had to brainstorm all the possible outcomes. In other words, it forced them to think. I am in my 15th year of teaching and critical thinking is a skill that is becoming extinct. Unfortunately, so much of education has become “teaching to a test” and thinking critically has taken a backseat. This lesson encourages students to explore consequences of choices and be aware of the probabilities surrounding such consequences.”
– Stacy Giangaspro, High School English Teacher
…And so are their students.
“This project allowed me to really visualize the possibilities of my future. Most projects only
cause me to think about the present or my knowledge of a certain topic. The travel project made me ask myself ‘What more could I know? What could I learn about a country, its people, and its culture? It was also different in the aspect of self-discovery and realization.’ This project made me think of how there’s an entire world out there, waiting for me with no hypothetical limitations or constraints on what I can accomplish”
– Reese (student of A. Tobias)
“This project changed the way I work through certain things. It helped me to start at the foundation of a problem first. With that, I have become more able to solve my problems more efficiently. When starting this project, we had to come up with first principles important to certain areas in the school. Then after that, we had to figure out what to fix, so that those principles could be more included in these rooms. Going in further we had to see if those changes, would help students engage more and create connections. This project really forced me to look at the root but also go further in and look at what would come after that. It kind of reminded me of chess, you don’t just move your piece thinking at that moment, you think about later moves and how moving now will affect those.”
– Julia (student of K. Clark)
This was an effective project that helped get me prepared to make decisions in the future. I did this project by myself really, I had to do my own research on the colleges (save for speaking to alumni), learned about the majors on my own, and made the decisions I made all by myself. Getting to decide this much on my own when it comes to something like schooling was a kind of scary but really fulfilling experience, and I’m glad I did. It’s not much, but I feel a lot better now in doing stuff regarding my future on my own.”
-Amanda (student of S. Giangaspro)