Set the brain cells spinning

Mind games can put the fun into revision and give learning a boost, says Mike Levy

Dale Winton on a tractor? Juggling and plate spinning? Rude stories to help remember the structure of limestone? Revision can be fun, and one school in Nottinghamshire is rewriting the teaching manuals in a very unexpected way.

Garibaldi College, an 11-18 school which serves the ex-mining village of Clipstone near Mansfield may suffer from the kind of structural neglect that reminds you of remote parts of Ukraine, but behind the crumbling walls is a beacon of new ideas about learning.

One example is Year 10's new curriculum subject: Braingames. Each Friday morning, a class of 14 to 15-year-olds learn about learning. They spend an hour studying how the brain works, how we all learn, remember and analyse information - above all, they learn that even revising for an exam can be fun -and most lessons begin with juggling or plate spinning.

Another example is the sixth form, which spent four days of their Easter holiday learning how to speed read and remember great swathes of information. By the end, they increased their reading speed by up to five times and by using Tony Buzan's Mind Maps found they could revise much more effectively.

Bringing these thinking skills to the school was the brainchild of deputy head Christopher Dickinson: "I am a total convert to these learning methods -everybody loves them, especially the kids, and they are very effective."

He brought in Adrian Woods from Eurekazone to work with students on revision techniques and with five teachers on a whole raft of cutting-edge brain-centred learning methods. According to Adrian, "Learning is something the brain loves to do - it is totally natural and all we have to do is to unlock some of the barriers. The key thing is to get the brain chemicals moving so that learning can really start to motor. That's why we start many of the Braingames lessons with juggling or plate spinning. It is active, it is engaging and above all, it is fun".

Fun may not be associated with revising, but to the young people of Garibaldi, it is the key to getting those brain cocktails shaking. That view is certainly endorsed by Terri Duncan and Simon Pestell, both in Year 10.

"We use Mind Maps for lots of subjects now and they are really useful for revision", says Terri. "They are a really exciting way of remembering and a lot of teachers have taken a shine to them."

Simon Pestell agrees: "I used them for the topic 'energy'. We put the key word in the middle and started drawing in all the branches. It really helps you to see how things are linked up and also to remember the important facts."

Another memory technique they use is to put key ideas into a narrative - make up a story and, according to student Sam Hyatt, "The ruder it is the better you remember it".

Their enthusiasm is shared by maths co-ordinator Carl Storey, who has taken the lead in running the Braingames curriculum and cascading ideas about learning to other members of staff.

"Using association is a really powerful way of learning", he says. "This morning we did factoring with Year 10 and I asked them how we could remember this. One boy said it reminded him of the word "Tractor", so we drew a cartoon that embedded all the key ideas of the lesson. That is a great visual way to learn".

Adrian Woods used a similar method called the "major memory technique"to help a class of A-level history students. It uses a system to transfer numbers to letters which can form mnemonic memory hooks.

Key facts about the dissolution of the monasteries, for instance, were reduced to a mnemonic that involved Dale Winton on a tractor (these farm implements are obviously important in memory games).

Adrian also taught them speed reading techniques.

The lesson from this school is that learning should be fun, visual methods are powerful, understanding the brain and learning to learn pays dividends - and you should never underestimate the power of a tractor, especially with Dale Winton on board.

l How to Pass Exams: Accelerate Your Learning, Memorise Key Facts, Revise Effectively (the Dominic system) by Dominic O'Brien, Headline

* Master Your Memory and Speed Reading by Tony Buzan, BBCBooks

* Mind Maps for Kids: Rev Up for Revision by Tony Buzan, Thorsons

* You Can Remember: A Home Study Course in Memory and Concentration by Dr Bruno and Lotte Furst. pound;197.95 from RW Heap Tel: 0161 427 3513 l


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