"We use the 'LVT' (Logo Visual Thinking) boards all the time," says Louise Mallet, the science department's curriculum leader at Holden Lance High School, Stoke. Her deputy head, she tells me, has long been an enthusiastic fan of mind maps, which are now used across the school. But it was Louise who caught the bug for LVT and the wide opportunities of its attractive magnetic boards and two-coloured hexagons, after she attended a conference on gifted and talented education, for which she disseminates ideas to a cluster of six Stoke schools. The advantages of the boards come flying at me when I talk to Louise and her colleagues.
"The kids get really creative and come up with lots of ideas."
"They are good for looking into ideas more deeply so that they see beyond just the facts, the connections between things and the bigger picture."
"They like the materials and treat them with respect."
"Boys like them - it involves them doing something physical."
So Louise and her colleagues had no difficulty deciding how to use some extra money in last year's budget. Another set of LVT boards - what else?
The department runs a two-week timetable, with three lessons on each of the three sciences. That leaves one "floating lesson", which they use for showing the children exam techniques and other ways of learning. The LVT boards are only one method of visual learning, but evidently a favourite.
"Why is carbon so important?" is the question posed by chemistry teacher Louise Richards, to her class of Year 11s. The children are working in groups of four. First, they write down their own ideas on the hexagons; then they cluster similar suggestions together, putting them on the magnetic boards and link them using words and arrows.
Everyone has been allocated a specific task. There is a resource manager who looks after the materials; a recorder, who takes notes of the group's discussion; a timekeeper; and a reporter who feeds back what they have done to the rest of the class.
"You can build in securities within the group," Louise says. "You can show them you are aware of their weaknesses, and you can pull out their strengths."
After half an hour the boys in the corner have come up with some impressive-looking work, clustering their ideas into carbon's various formations (eg oil and other hydrocarbons), its physical uses (photosynthesis) and human ones (plastics), and the different carbon atoms (isotopes). "I liked the links made between and within the clusters. I have not seen that before," Louise says.
After the other groups have shared their ideas, Louise returns to her original question, which the groups must answer in just 20 words.
"Carbon is the basis for most major processes," comes the boys' succinct reply - and their final work for the day, as they grab their bags and run off to catch their bus home.
The LVT's boards and hexagons come with a neat little book from their suppliers, the Centre for Management Creativity. In it is a list of ideas on how you can use them, including analysis of issues, note taking, revision and decision-making, as well as notes on the pros and cons of different activities, and the thinking skills used.
"We use them more for linking and discussing ideas than revising," says Louise Mallet. "Lower and middle sets get more out of them," she continues, "and we use them in particular among children with SEN. But not really in the top sets, who have got the skills already."
Down the corridor Laura Timms has asked her biology class to use the boards and hexagons to generate games to aid their GCSE revision.
"Our strength was the digestive system," explains one group, who are enjoying a game of "Matching up", in which players will have to attach names (and hexagons) of human organs to a range of descriptive functions.
Before the hour is up, all the groups can play the games that the others have come up with, testing their knowledge on different subjects within the biology curriculum.
So, will LVT have increased their learning? Revision can get boring, we agree, and with the children having a good time and their interest secured it will help maintain their momentum towards the imminent exams.
* Centre for Management Creativity - High Trenhouse, Malham Moor, Settle, North Yorkshire, BD24 9PR.
Tel: 01729 830322 www.logovisual.com