Monday, November 28, 2011

Mind Mapping for Teachers, Part 1

This is the first in a week-long series of guest posts on mind mapping by Hobie Swan, a professional writer from Boise, ID.  Mr. Swan is interested in helping teachers find ways to incorporate this strategy into the classroom.

Screen capture of an example "starter" mind map (ConceptDraw MINDMAP software)
In this multi-part series I will describe a few ways to use mind mapping in teaching. I will talk about how teachers can use mind mapping to make their work easier and clearer, and how students can use mind mapping to help them organize thoughts and information.

The three uses I will describe are:
  1. To create multimedia lesson plans.
  2. To help students organize their writing.
  3. To help students conduct research.
Throughout this series, I will be using ConceptDraw MINDMAP from CS Odessa Inc. to create the mind maps used in these articles (The functionality I describe is standard in MINDMAP and in some other products).

A note on the history and development of mind mapping
The “Tree of Love” by Porphyry of Tyros
(3rd Century AD, Greece)
Some say that the practice of mind mapping is as old as the hills. It is, indeed, possible to find quite old examples of what is often referred to as “visual thinking”—the theory behind mind mapping. There has been much evidence to support the main tenet of visual thinking that the mixture of text and images promotes thinking and learning. Much of the rationale for this theory comes from Robert Sperry’s Nobel Prize-winning experiments with people whose two brain hemispheres had become separated.  Sperry’s experiments revealed some of the specialization of the brain, and how by stimulating more than one functional part of the brain, we increase the creative and memory capabilities of the brain.

From these origins grew the highly sophisticated practice known today as mind mapping. This manner of capturing, organizing, and sharing mixtures of information, ideas and images is today used by everyone from English and German school children to 85 of the Global Fortune 100 companies.

Images and observations of early life by
Leonardo da Vinci (15th Century AD, Italy)
Its use in academics has yet to be fully taken advantage of. One barrier continues to be the ability of students and teachers to have unfettered access to computers, computer software, and the Internet. For the purposes of this series, I will assume that you and your students access to all three.

Creating Multi-Media Lesson Plans
A common thread you will see in all of the uses I discuss is a teacher’s ability to combine multiple information type in a single, easily constructed and navigated document. A mind-mapped lesson plan often includes:
  • A thesis statement and accompanying questions
  • Active internet links
  • Images and icons
  • Answers and notes

Download a full example with step-by-step instructions and screen captures via Google Docs.

A Symphony of Meaning
“But what,” you might ask, “are the advantages or creating a lesson plan this way? It seems like it would be easier to do this as a word document?”

One of the results of Sperry’s research was that each hemisphere of the human brain is better suited to particular forms of information. Traditionally, the left hemisphere has been thought of as the home of reason, logic, numbers, and language. While the right side excels in rhythm, color, images, and intuition. Provide information is a way that appealed to as many of these cross strengths as possible, it was believed, and the brain would be more able to learn, remember, synthesize, and create.

As this idea has gained popularity over the years, so has the idea that some people’s brains are better able to take in information captured in one of these way (i.e. some of us are “visual learners.” More recently, research suggests that we all think better when information is communicated using these different modalities. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But a picture with a caption written in bold red type with an exclamation point is worth a lot more.

Read the other entries in the series:
Part 2: The Chunking of Language
Part 3: Improving Student Writing
Part 4: Improving Research