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Mindmapping and Learning

by Nancy Margulies


Many teachers have discovered that visually mind mapping ideas helps communicate with students by creating an engaging experience that is also more memorable. Students find the process of visually recording ideas, whether for note taking or creating presentations, to be more fun than traditional note taking. By mapping the ideas one has an opportunity to record new ideas where they fit in terms context and content. This process enables students to organize their notes by categories and relationships while mapping.

Whether mind mapping, presenting ideas on the board, creating decorations for the room or challenging students to develop their visual capacities, the ability to produce simple images is valuable. Visuals can condense extensive amounts of information and are often comprehended regardless of age or culture.

Whether mind mapping, presenting ideas on the board, creating decorations for the room or challenging students to develop their visual capacities, the ability to produce simple images is valuable.

It is now widely accepted that people have a better memory for images than for words. The combination of words and images that are not simply decorative have been found to facilitate learning, understanding, remembering and performing. Images can help students select, structure, synthesize and integrate information in a meaningful way. Aristotle said, "The soul never thinks without a mental image."

When you pick up a book the primary element is print while design and illustrations are the secondary, supportive aspects. However, we are moving rapidly toward a culture in which the visual dominates. The media is driven by visual images; words support images. We learn and remember using images as a primary tool. When you are able to bring simple images into the classroom you enrich the learning environment.

Although the benefits of visual mapping have long been established, one of the most important aspects of making ideas visible is often overlooked. Making ideas visible, using both words and images, means that we are making our very process of thinking visible. Often we go about thinking and attempting to solve problems without a conscious awareness of our own process. This is much like trying to maneuver your way through a crowded room in total darkness. You stumble blindly along hoping that your memory of the room is accurate. Much of what goes on in our minds that is usually unavailable to us – in fact invisible – becomes knowable when it leaves the far reaches of our brains and shows up on paper. Once our ideas exist outside our brains we can explore them in greater depth. This capacity to work with ideas made visible is an important aspect of visual intelligence.

Mapping ideas is a process that allows you to see the whole picture, to see the parts and the whole and notice the relationship between them. Often our minds move from detail to detail without the ability to step back and see the entire system. Once ideas are poured onto paper and made visible the big picture comes into focus.

Whether you are new to visual mapping or an experienced mapper can begin to notice the wealth of symbols that you can use for mapping, for creating worksheets, for making the chalk board look more appealing and meaningful and for teaching your students how to create symbols. Copy simple symbols when you see them in print or elsewhere in your environment. Keep the drawing simple, it only needs to convey an idea and can be accompanied by a word for further clarity.

For many adults and older students the idea of drawing stands like a giant boulder in our paths – marked "No, you can't". Once you side step that boulder and try copying simple symbols you will discover that it isn't as challenging as you imagined. Once you have a visual vocabulary you will be able to prepare worksheets, make posters and convey ideas in a manner that appeals to your students, especially those students for whom reading is challenging. Many teachers report that with the introduction of simple visual maps their most challenging students were transformed into the most engaged.

Hand-drawn symbols can be applied to a range of subjects and do not need to be taught as a separate unit. However, for those students interested in drawing, you can hand out the symbol drawing pages as a special treat and an opportunity to hone their skills.

We are a culture that is currently using more icons and symbols than ever before. Encourage your students to begin to notice the symbols in their world. You may want to begin a collection of symbols copied from magazines or seen on the computer screen.

"Mind mapping is one of a host of graphic organizers that have been found to enhance students' critical thinking and higher order thinking skills." (Brookbank et al, 1999).

In 29 research studies show that the use of graphic organizers helps students:

• Brainstorm ideas
• Develop, organize and communicate ideas
• See connections, patterns and relationships
• Assess and share prior knowledge
• Develop vocabulary
• Outline for writing process activities
• Highlight important ideas
• Classify or categorize concepts, ideas and information
• Comprehend the events in a story or book
• Improve social interactions and facilitate group work
• Guide review and study
• Improve reading comprehension skills and strategies
• Facilitate recall and retention.

(from Graphic Organizers: A Review of Scientifically Based Research, 2003)

About the author

Nancy Margulies, M.A., is the author of many books, videos, and comics in the field of education. She also works with educational groups and corporations worldwide. Her unique form of graphic representation, mindscaping, enables learners and business people to take notes and present ideas in a form that clearly conveys essential concepts, relationships, and patterns.

If you wish to explore this topic further you can visit the web site of the author, Nancy Margulies: and that of Nusa Maal Nancy's site contains sample maps and a list that includes a video, comic book and newly revised edition of Mapping Inner Space. These resources will provide many examples and methodologies for teaching visual note-taking.

Nancy Margulies
PO Box 371523
8711 Cabrillo Hwy
Mantara, CA. 94037
Phone (650) 728-9287

Copyright ©September 2004


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