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.