Universe of learning tools in each brain

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Imagine the sun. Feel the heat. Next to the sun is a little thermometer. It is measuring the sun as it gets hotter and hotter. The Mercury is rising.

The thermometer explodes, and little balls of mercury fall on the ground.

Standing next to them is a gorgeous little goddess. She is Venus, with v-shaped cleavage. She picks up a little bit of the mercury and throws it.

Gravity pulls it back to Earth, and it lands in front of where you live, making a crater.

Your next door neighbour is an angry, war-like little man, who is eating a Mars bar. He is furious about all the earth in his garden. Just in time, striding down the street, 100ft tall, with a J of hair on his forehead, is the king of the gods, Jupiter. You look up at Jupiter and on his massive chest, in a big white T-shirt, in enormous capital letters, is the word SUN (standing for Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) - and sitting on Jupiter's head is a tiny Walt Disney dog: Pluto.

And now you will never forget the order and relative sizes of the planets.

Go through that story four more times and it will be indelible.

What you, along with several hundred Kent teachers who attended an effective learning seminar led by mind-map guru Tony Buzan, have experienced is a powerful way to make information stick. Workshops of Year 3 and 4 children learned the planets through this visual mnemonic, too. The children predicted that they might be able to learn about 20 facts in two hours, but they knew 105 new things by the end of the session.

Led by Julie and Rebecca from the accelerated learning group Positively MAD (Making A Difference), which runs learning days in schools and helps teachers to develop their own ideas, the group of eight and nine-year-olds learned about Marco Polo's life through a mind map, struggled to read the names of colours written in the wrong colours, and memorised a shopping list based on eccentric imagery.

In schools, Positively MAD helps teachers make these ideas concrete, with direct curriculum applications. "There's a big gap between ideas and practice," says director Alan Winter. Julie says learning tricks help children take in facts and raise self-esteem. One numeracy trick she uses is called 007 (the name's Bond, Number Bond), in which pairs adding up to 10 make a face.

Teachers can use mind maps to plan lesson units, which children can add to.

The map can then stay on the classroom wall as a visual tool. Drawing helps many children to write, and Tony Buzan cites examples of how they generate ideas as they lead people to make links.

A recent programme on Meridian TV conducted an experiment where, under exam conditions, children from Sir William Borlase school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, planning in the old-fashioned linear way, came up with 30 ideas, while the mind-mapping students produced 99 ideas. Thirty-five thousand requests for information flooded into the Buzan centres (www.mind-map.com), he says. Meanwhile, a spot on BBC1's Blue Peter has made mind-mapping cool among kids.

How often do teachers forget to use imagery in their own learning as well as in teaching? Colour, texture, size, variety all help. Memory, says Dr Buzan, is based on imagery and association, as is creativity. Teachers should understand which children are predominantly visual, aural or kinaesthetic learners, but help develop all styles in every child.

Mind maps, with their core theme at the centre and key words and images radiating out in connected, organic lines, resemble neurons.

In Kent, Tony Buzan showed the audience a moving image of a brain cell.

Babies who are well cared for had brain cells like jungles; those who had been neglected had cells like deserts, he said. This is why a teacher's job is so important - they help children charge their brain cells. The more they are fed with information, oxygen and good nutrition plus affection, the more complex their brains become.

www.positivelymad.co.uk A programme on the seminar is being produced by Glasshead TV for Teachers' TV, the new DFES-funded satellite channel.

Information from media@glasshead.co.uk

MIND MAPPING

Originated in 1970 by Tony Buzan, mind maps are meant to enable you to plan routes, make choices and set down large amounts of information in a simple, connected way.

The main theme is placed at the centre (eg my life); sub-themes radiate out along thick, curving lines (egfamily, hobbies, friends), with further connections becoming thinner (mum, dad, my cat). Tony Buzan emphasises the use of colour, a variety of printing styles, symbols and images to help make it more effective.

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