Saturday, June 26, 2010

The New Presentation

I tried out my new, improved Mind Map presentation on Thursday to an audience of seven: five K-12 teachers, one college professor, and one professor emeritus. I'm pleased with the response and glad I decided to use the Prezi presentation embedded in my previous post here as the vehicle to propel the show. I was also able to make the point that mind maps, Prezi and Twitter are all tools that get right to the good stuff (the heart of the matter). Always the jokester, I pointed out that in high school and college I was never able to pad my essay answers with "BS" as most of the other students did. My answers tended to be concise and rather short. (My friends will tell you that my storytelling is not, however.) This is why I love mind maps, Prezi and Twitter: they eliminate the extra padding and get to the core concepts.

Since my attendees were all teachers, I threw in another point. I showed them how mind maps (and other visual organizations of information) help a visual learner make connections and attain deeper learning, climbing up the ladder of Bloom's Taxonomy (usually also represented with a visual). I showed them the mind map I used to organize my essay about the Delaware Bay into a rondo form. I never would have thought to do that while staring at a bunch of linear notes. And then there was the mind map I created when my book club read the book Snow in August by Pete Hamill. I portrayed the various characters in my mind map as heroes or villains as the young narrator did and then realized that there was also a recurring theme of fairy tales running through the text. Many details from the boy's life had to do with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so those got their own mind map branch. Without the experience of making a mind map, I don't think I would have made the connections between the fairy tale and Dodger details.

I told the group about the time I helped my goddaughter with a science fair project on the fruit fly. I hoped this story would convince them that mind maps are a help to any age learner. (We grasp the concept of pictures way before we learn language.) Hope had done some fruit fly research at school and I had gathered a few things for her. I debated whether I should introduce her to mind maps to organize all of her information. I decided to watch how she approached the task and was delighted to see that she started with a mind map! She called it something else (the nomenclature is somewhat elastic), but it was without a doubt a mind map. That story was a hit.

The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods ( provoked an audible reaction as did my link loaded with resources ( Among the many positive comments at the end, one teacher told me she was going to try mind maps to organize her students. If nothing else, I gave these teachers some practical, usable ideas to take back to their classrooms in September.

Click here for a link to a Prezi slideshow of selected mind maps and other types of visualizations.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It took me awhile to figure Prezi out. After seeing many sharp-looking scholarly presentations that used Prezi instead of PowerPoint, I thought I should get serious about shedding the "Death-by-PowerPoint" look. It took me a few hours of solid experimentation to create something usable, but I like what I have. I'll be debuting it later this month at a mind mapping presentation for K-12 educators, and I am expecting as many questions about Prezi as about mind maps. Take a look (but remember on this small screen the mind maps are teeny):

Monday, June 7, 2010


I have just discovered VoiceThread, a free online cool tool to use for discussions about images and video. This is my new favorite, and I've started discussions on my concept map and my knowledge map used in my mind map sabbatical project:

The maps are not new, but I still hope you check them out if you haven't been to my mind mapping LibGuide ( I'm curious how effective you think VoiceThread is for discussing images like mind maps and such. I think it is very effective. The first time I saw this tool, it was being used to discuss fine art. That worked very well, too.

Please leave comments on the VoiceThread site or here if you prefer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Back of the Napkin

The human brain thinks and imagines naturally in pictures. As children, we communicate with pictures and have no inhibitions about drawing. As we grow older, we become more comfortable with language and most people become less confident about their drawing skills. Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin, believes that we never lose the ability to understand concepts and ideas conveyed with pictures, and that we can use very simple drawings to explain ideas and influence decision makers. In this book, he breaks down his process, or toolkit, for solving problems and selling ideas with pictures by using the same process he is teaching.

First he explains the process of Look-See-Imagine-Show where we analyze the idea and decide how to show it. Then we proceed to the SQVID analysis where we decide where our picture will fit on one or more continuums: simple/elaborate, qualitative/quantitative, vision/execution, individual/comparison or change/status quo. Next is The Six Ways We See, where we decide how to present the idea: who/what (picture), how much (graph), where (map), when (timeline), how (flowchart) and why (plot). Here is my Napkin-inspired flowchart of the book:

More than one choice from the SQVID and The Six Ways We See can be incorporated into our graphic in order to represent or sell our idea. (Notice that the first continuum in the SQVID analysis is simple/elaborate.)

I like this book and started using its process to graphically represent my own concepts before I had gotten halfway through. Here's a timeline explaining information literacy that I am hoping will inspire and illuminate college students:
Mind maps are useful for almost anything, but over the course of this project I began to feel a need for a way to show time and process. This is it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I just finished a book about the brain and music called Musicophilia. It is by the psychiatrist on whom the movie "Awakenings" focused, Oliver Sacks, and is more a recounting of tales about patients he's seen than a step-by-step description of how the brain processes music. (That was the case with the other book I read for this part of the project, This is Your Brain on Music.) He recounts fascinating tales of people experiencing musical hallucinations, musicogenic epilepsy, and musical savantism. He describes what is really happening when we find ourselves with an "earworm." Now I have to transcribe notes from my underlined passages in the book and make some mind maps as that is what I'm writing about--not so much the brain and music.

Sacks writes at length about dementia patients and how music alone has the ability to bring their "self" out. I can relate to that part, of course, because of my experiences with Dad (stroke and aphasia) and more recently Mom (advanced dementia). I wish I would have tried music on Mom. She wasn't musical, but perhaps the music from her young adulthood would have brought her some pleasure. I don't know. Dr. Sacks also wrote at length about music therapists. There were music therapy majors at the universities I attended as an undergraduate music major, Duquesne and at Temple, but I never really understood what they did. I assumed they worked mostly with children. Music therapists also work with adults suffering from brain disorders and it brings much success. Dr. Sacks supposes that the reactions to music are based on subcortical (rather than cortical responses), which I have learned is commonly referred to as the reptilian brain. I'm amused to remember that under my name in my Temple University yearbook, I am labeled a "Music Therapy" major. It is, of course, a typo for Music Theory, and I always thought my classmates would wonder that I never seemed a caring or outgoing enough person to choose to study Music Therapy.
All of that is the content for my learning-with-mind-mapping project, but what I'm really looking at is the process of organizing and learning the content. Early on in the reading of the book, I realized that linear, outlined notes would be easy, but a graphic representation would be much more difficult. This is because the book is made up of a series of tales of Dr. Sacks's patients with some explanation of why they act as they do and what might be going on in their brains. I created mind maps, but they are simply chronological, chapter by chapter. Perhaps these mind maps are an intermediary step and a more creative way to organize the information will occur to me later.

That said, the discussions on dementia and Williams Syndrome are extensive and could warrant their own mind maps (or other type of visualizations). These are the two brain conditions that are the most intertwined with the brain's processing of music, and so there is a lot of information to organize from Dr. Sacks's studies and observations in addition to many citations of other studies.

In any case as I have said before, the mere act of creating a mind map helps me see connections and hierarchies, and I will have the mind maps to refer to as I read the other books on my list.

Friday, April 2, 2010

This is Your Brain on Music

Since I am studying how mind maps can help us learn, I decided it would be informative for me to use them to learn something new. Whatever content I choose should be unfamiliar to me, or I would simply be organizing learned information (what I usually do with mind maps). The content should also be interesting so that it stays compelling to me. I decided to tackle a small (but ever-growing) pile of books I have been meaning to read about how the brain listens to and understands music.

The first of these, Daniel J. Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music (2006), explains in detail the parts of the brain involved in listening to and performing music and how each contributes to the musical experience. The brain functions are new to me, but the music fundamentals are mot. Even so, the parts of the book that describe how music is put together are extremely interesting, elegant, and easy to understand for the layperson.

The meat of the book details the cognitive neuroscience going on in our brains when we encounter music by listening, performing, or even simply imagining it. The descriptions of the brain parts and what they do are easy to understand, making this book a good introduction to the field. In order to get my own brain to understand and retain the information, I took traditional, linear notes, but I also made a mind map for each part involved in music cognition. The linear notes are more wordy with quotes and explanations. The mind maps are color-coded and show where the brain part is located in the brain. Here is the Cerebellum map:
The colors I used in these maps correspond to a larger, more complex mind map which summarizes the various processes involved in listening to or performing music, and which brain parts are involved:
(Also, I couldn't resist retrospectively color-coding my linear notes to match these mind maps. My brain responds to and remembers colors.)

Both kinds of notes are helpful to me. The linear notes are good for review. I can repeatedly read over the sections I want to master and the words eventually stick. The mind maps help the visual part of my brain remember the spatial stuff, and they serve as a brief review of concepts. Once the details are mastered from reading and linear note review, the mind maps will prompt the concepts and their relationships and provide the framework for future writing and speaking. Simply from taking the notes, creating the mind maps (and assigning colors), this process has already started to occur.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Using Mind Maps to Learn Stuff

My sabbatical project is on mind mapping: using these web-like, image-laden diagrams to study, recall and communicate information. Although I usually draw my mind maps by hand, I am fond of a few of the programs available. Today I'm experimenting with MindMeister. This program is interesting because it allows the mind mapper to store mind maps in The Cloud and access them from anywhere. Cool. These mind maps can also be accessed by others for collaboration and brainstorming purposes. Very cool. The stripped-down sample MindMeister is free, and there are two more elaborate versions that cost some money. Free is for me, or course, so whatever you see here from MindMeister will be from the free version unless I fall in love and dish out some precious cash. (It's possible as it's really not that expensive.)

My first experimental MindMeister Mind Map will be used to map stuff for the mind map article I am working on. What I plan to do since I am studying mind maps in education and learning, is to learn something completely new to me and evaluate how effective mind maps are in helping me learn and organize information. My background is in the arts, and more specifically in Music, but recently there have been some very interesting books on how the brain processes music. The brain part--Science--is completely unfamiliar to me intellectually. I am fascinated by the brain and how it works, especially after losing my father to a stroke and my mother to dementia. First hand I saw, twice, how the brain can go haywire. Both cases were horrifying and heartbreaking at the same time that they were fascinating. I couldn't (and didn't want to) take the time when I was living through those ordeals to learn more about the brain, but I can now. Linking what I learn to music will make it even more interesting to me.

So here is my MindMeister Mind Map, begun this morning, on that project. I am sure I will be adding lots to it and becoming more familiar with its functions. Click on the square icon in the bottom bar to open the map in a new window and view the whole thing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mind Maps to the Rescue

Mind maps have come to my rescue again. This time I was struggling to become proficient with some complicated (to me) educational stuff for a meeting where I might have to actually speak with knowledge. In prior meetings with this group I had experienced the uneasy feeling that everyone could speak this unfamiliar language but me. Of course, it wasn't a different language--it was English with a whole lot of jargon.

In advance of the meeting where I might have to speak, I created a mind map which included what I felt to be the important points and vocabulary. I linked similar items and relationships. Then I studied it every day. The initial process of organizing the information and creating the mind map helped me assimilate the information, too.

I only shared the mind map with one person from that group who also admits his facility with the concepts and jargon is less than what he would like. His experience will be different with a ready-made mind map, (from mine because I created it), but as he's also a visual learner, I think it might help.

I am reminded of another time I was stuck for a way to communicate a multifaceted idea of mine. The idea was to be communicated visually rather than verbally or with text only. This would be a poster session with a display on that tri-fold science fair cardboard sold at craft and office supply stores. This should have been a no-brainer for a lover of mind maps like me, but it took about a week of rumination before it dawned on me. I made the mind map in the shape of an apple tree with the main concept on the trunk. The branches each represented a higher-level subconcept, and the leaves and apples represented the next level of detail. It worked intellectually and the browns, greens and reds grabbed the attention of attendees at the event.

The moral of these stories is this: mind maps are not only organization and memory tools. they are dynamic methods for learning, teaching and communication, whether in the form of an apple tree or in a complex computer-generated diagram. Save information, brainstorm it, learn it, and communicate it.

P.S. There are no pictures in this post because I don't know what happened to the Apple Tree Mind Map, and this week's education example, although in technicolor, is probably one of the least visually appealing I have ever made. And my scanner is ill.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snowmageddon Reading

I am always amazed at how my seemingly random choices of reading (and movies) serendipitously overlap. What I mean is, I will choose two movies with the same star or that are set in the same obscure place and I had no idea of this when I chose them. With books, randomly chosen, I'm amazed at how one will mention the other, or the content overlaps.

For my recent blizzard adventure (Snowmageddon I) in Cape May, I brought a stack of books chosen from my "Sabbatical 2010 Book-a-Week Reading List" and some others. these books turned out to be my primary source of entertainment after the electricity went out and stayed out for three days. here are the three books I actually read from the stack: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and Notes from the Shore by Jennifer Ackerman. I thought I was choosing very different books, but I was surprised (and delighted) by the overlap.
Travels with Charley, where Steinbeck leaves his home on Long Island and travels across the county with his dog in a customized pick-up truck, and Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's groundbreaking environmental book, were both published in the very early 1960s. In the very early 1960s, I was a newborn and living in the very house in which I was experiencing Snowmageddon I. (I lived there until I was about three and my father got a job in Manhattan to support this late-in-life surprise baby. He had just retired from the US Coast Guard.) We lived on Staten Island, but visited the Cape May house often on weekends and in the summer. I remember the mosquito trucks driving around the neighborhood spraying their fog. Between the Delaware Bay four blocks away and all the salt marshes in the area, we had a lot of mosquitoes and they especially loved my father and me. (Mom could stand still out there and not get a bite.)

Anyhow, both Steinbeck and Carson describe the same America but from different perspectives. His is that of a writer who observes people, and hers is that of a writer who observes nature. Both describe a country and culture that has changed enormously in about fifty years.

Jennifer Ackerman's Notes from the Shore is a much more recent book, published in 1995. It is a collection of nine essays about Cape Henlopen, across the Delaware Bay from Cape May. That is where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry takes us, but I had only driven through it and not explored until about a decade ago. Ackerman is also a nature observer and writer, and describes this environment which is very similar to Cape May in some ways and very different in others. There's way less tourist traffic for one thing, so I imagine Cape May probably used to be more like Cape Henlopen. One of her essays is dedicated to the osprey, a large bird of prey that was almost wiped out by DDT spraying in the 1950s and 1960s. The poison chemicals made their eggs so weak and brittle that the mama osprey would crack them when she went to roost. The osprey population has rebuilt itself now, and we can see pairs of them in the warm weather on their nests. By page 48 of Ackerman's book, she had mentioned both Rachel Carson and John Steinbeck. Carson was no surprise since she was largely responsible for the public awareness that put an end to blanket pesticide spraying that allowed the ospreys to come back. But Steinbeck? Well, it seems that John Steinbeck found, in his Long Island garden, a gigantic osprey nest (they usually are) that contained three shirts, a bath towel an arrow and a rake. How cool is that? (A naturalist in Cape May once told us that an osprey nest there contained a hula hoop.)

Since I'm documenting everything during this sabbatical, I wanted to show the relationships between these three books. A mind map wasn't going to work for this because it wouldn't allow me to compare. Instead, I took a stab at a concept map, which is a way to map out similarities and differences between things. since I'm still without a scanner, I took an iPhone shot of my concept map to share. Also, if you are interested in what I'm reading, I'm keeping a list on LibraryThing where I am known as MargaretMontet.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My first attempt at a Knowledge Map

After studying the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (see previous post), and admiring the Knowledge Map, and deciding that those don't require too much drawing skill, I tried one. My printer/scanner is on the fritz (sorry Jackie), so I iPhoned it:
This is for an article on Twitter and Facebook and the different ways they are used. For the local publication that will be publishing the article, eventually, I brought in some local uses of the two tools.
Social Media is represented by the mainland on the left, and Twitter, Facebook, etc., are countries. In fainter print I've reminded myself of the various uses of each. The local users in Bucks County are represented on the green island. I made a few notes on their handles so that I can mention them in the article. The best quotes I received were from Peddler's Village (a quaint shopping village that features popular restaurants and many events), and Bucks County Community College (my main employer). Peddler's Village is linked to the mainland of Social Media by bridges, and BCCC runs a ferry service there. A road sign at the bottom points the way off-page to other social media countries I didn't treat in the article. I tried to work in a lighthouse because I could probably draw a decent one (better than the ferry anyway), but couldn't think how.
I enjoyed this exercise and, just like with a Mind Map, the act of drawing it helped me organize my thoughts and data. Just like with a Mind Map, many of the items works as prompts to help me remember the details I want to include. I'm hoping to wrap up this article tomorrow, but if I have to leave it for a few days, my Knowledge Map will help me pick up where I left off.

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

I could sit and look at this Periodic Table all day. No, it has nothing to do with chemistry, of course, it illustrates many ways to visualize information.
Take a few moments to hover your cursor over the various elements, and see which your brains responds to most.

I'm partial to the aqua Concept Visualization elements: Mi for Mind Mapping and Co for Concept Mapping. However, I am drawn (no pun intended) the Compound Visualization elements in cornflower blue: Lm for Learning Map, Ri for Rich Picture, and Kn for Knowledge Map. I will probably be experimenting with the Knowledge Map for some current projects since it doesn't require above-average drawing skills. (There's the other part of the pun.)

Step back a bit and appreciate the Periodic Table itself. Organizing these visualization methods into such an elegant image took some research, deep original thought and obviously a knack for visualization.

I'm going to go stare at it for just a little while longer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How I Use Mind Maps Most of the Time

Before my big Mind Map project begins to take on steam, I thought I might explain myself a little. I've been using Mind Maps for about twenty years, since I was introduced to them in a book club meeting. I realized their potential for note-taking right away, and frequently draw up a Mind Map before book discussions. Incidentally, I began using them for creating schedules and triaging deadlines, too. Later on, when I discovered Mind Mapping software at an education conference I realized that they were also great tools for presentation, both for organizing and presenting information, and I began using them at work.

Today, I use Mind Maps most often for organizing ideas and making connections between points of information when I write. I do a fair amount of freelance writing which involves research, visiting destinations and interviewing experts and public relations people. Information from all of these sources has to be organized somehow, and for me (a visual learner) a Mind Map is the most effective way. Not all my writing makes it into print or online publications. Sometimes I'm content to write about my travels on my other blog devoted to writing ( with photos and videos added. Sometimes these blogposts grow or combine to make bigger articles, but sometimes they just occupy space on my blog and remind me what I saw and what I thought while I was in a place.

The following picture is a typical Mind Map that I would make as an aid to writing about a place. I visited The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami at Christmastime and organized my information in a hand-drawn Mind Map. I like Mind Mapping software, and I use it almost always when other people are going to be looking at my notes, but I enjoy the process of creating the visual representation of my topic with colors, lines and varying font sizes when the Mind Map is just for me. Some thought had to go into the initial organization of this Mind Map before I started drawing. I decided to start with four main subtopics (History, Mansion Inside, Waterfront and Garden) before I started adding subtopics. The best Mind Maps have little pictures associated with their topics, but I shy away from attempting drawings, even the most rudimentary. I do enjoy using colors, and my brain tends to remember colors that I associate with concepts. I only took the time to apply colors to the first level of subtopics in the Vizcaya Mind Map, but sometimes I go a little crazy with my Crayola colored pencils (you'll see in my future posts here), coloring-in boxes and circles, reinforcing connecting lines, and shading entire areas.

So take a look at the Vizcaya Mind Map, and if it interests you check out the corresponding blogpost at I would love to read your comments, too!