Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Whole Brain Thinking, or How to Make a Mind Map

It has been a busy week with homeschooling, clients, painting, errands and such, so I haven't had much time for blogging. I hope to make up for it though with this entry.

I have had several inquiries about mind mapping and was delighted to come across the book, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci recently. It was written by Michael Gelb, and in it he describes the rules of mind mapping. Mr. Gelb also has a two audio tape series called "Mind Mapping: How to Liberate Your Natural Genius." What follows is a distillation of what he says in his book.

Much of our traditional educational methods tend to be left-brain dominant. That is, they tend to focus on the logical, analytical thinking processes and less on the imaginative, big-picture right side of the brain. However, the best way to learn about a particular subject is to attempt to use both sides of the brain. You get both the big picture and the details, the analysis, but also the creative side of how to use the facts.

Leonardo Da Vinci demonstrated this in how he accomplished his many activities. For instance, he emphasized that the ability of the artist to express the beauty of the human form should be based on the science of anatomy. If you don't understand bone structure and muscular relationships (analytic detail), your picture of a person's form was apt to be wooden and graceless. Thus he married the analytical, logical, structured part of the brain to the creative expression of what he learned through his drawings and paintings.

Da Vinci was one of the first "brainstormers" One of the things he urged his students to do was to stare at stones, smoke, embers, clouds and mud, and clutivate their ability to see in these mundane forms the "likeness of divine landscapes... and an infinity of things." In short, he was one of the first people to discover the power of creative thinking as an intellectual discipline.

So what is mind mapping? It is a method for cultivating whole brain thinking for generating and organizing ideas which was originated by Tony Buzan and inspired by Da Vinci's approach to note-taking. It can be used for personal goal setting, daily planning, and interpersonal problem solving. One of the greatest benefits of it is that it trains you to be a more balanced thinker like Da Vinci. The best thinkers are those who can balance analysis and intuition, seriousness and play, planning and improvisation, art and science.

Most people when they want to generate and organize ideas will try and do so using a traditional outline, complete with Roman numerals. The problem with it is that it tends to stifle creativity because you feel constrained to be neat, and thinking through things is often very un-neat and doesn't lend itself well to being organized in this fashion. Outlines shine in their usefulness after you have generated the ideas that need to be presented.

Outlining and other linear-forms of note-taking systems exclude the right brain's ability to see color, dimension, synthesis, rhythm, and image. In short, it wastes half your brain. Mind mapping, on the other hand, frees you from the tyranny of premature organization which tends to stifle creativity and the generation of ideas. It balances generation and organization while encouraging the full range of mental expression.

Our brain is a vast network of interconnecting neurons which branch off in innumerable directions. Global telecommunications networks do the same, as do the roads and streets that connect main arteries with side roads. The structure of communication in nature is not linear, it is a series of networks, connections, and systems. A mind map is a natural expression of this natural pattern of the brain. When we think of a story we have read or a movie we have seen, we tend to think of it in a wholistic fashion through key words, images, and impressions that float through our mind with the thoughts associated one to another. Mind mapping is merely an extension of this natural process on paper.

So how is it done?

To mind map you need a topic, a large sheet of paper, and a few colored pens or markers.

  1. Put a picture or symbol of your topic in the center of your page. This opens up 360 degrees of association. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so use the power of pictures and symbols to express and enhance your ability to think creatively about your subject.
  2. Write down key words. These help you recall and create associations you can expand upon.
  3. Connect the words with lines radiating from your central image.
  4. Print your key words -- it is easier to read than writing
  5. Print one key word per line. This helps you to focus on the most appropriate key word which removes clutter and enhances the precision of your thinking.
  6. Print your key words on the lines and make them the same size as the line to encourage economy of space and maximize clarity of association.
  7. Use colors, dimensions, and codes for greater association and emphasis. You can highlight priorities and illustrate relationships between different branches of your mind map by color coding, highlighting in yellow, using secondary colors for secondary points, etc. Pictures and images in vivid colors should be used where possible because they stimulate your creative association and enhance your memory.
Mind mapping can be taught to our kids as a study tool as well. Some kids are more logical and disciplined in how they do their work while other kids are day dreamers, and artistic but seemingly unfocused. Mind mapping can allow your dreamer to maximize his potential while playing to his strengths and it can liberate your left brain dominant child and allow them to experience greater creativity in their work.

At this point, I had a picture of a mind map that I was going to upload to show you an example, but I have temporarily misplaced the cord I need to download images off my camera and onto my computer and I don't know how to work my scanner yet.

Here's a description of what I did: I pretended that I wanted to give a talk about the Reformation. In the middle of the page I drew a picture of an open Bible and put "The Reformation" over it. On lines radiating out from it, I had the following:

  • A picture of a pope's mitre and crook to represent the Papacy. I drew a big red "X" through it and I then branched off that and wrote that the temporal power of the papacy was broken.
  • Another line had "People" on it and then I listed some key Reformers, including Calvin, who had another arm radiating off of him with "Institutes" followed by another arm with "5pts. of Calvinism vs. 5 pts. of Arminianism on it
  • Another major branch had "politics" and from here I drew a picture of Swiss Alps with Calvin's Geneva under it. Another branch had a blue banner with "Crown Rights of Christ" on it vs. Divine Rights of Kings which showed an imperial crown tipped and falling. Underneath the Blue Banner was written "Covenanters and under neath the Crown was written James I , Charles I & II. Another branch had "Civil Liberties enlarged".
  • A major line had "Creeds and Confessions" written on it, and from that I listed some of the major catechisms, creeds, and confessions.
  • The last line had "martyrs" written on it and I drew a little figure of a person being burnt at the stake. From this I had lines radiating off to represent the Scottish Covenanters, the French Huegenots, (sp?) and the English martyrs.

You can see how it would be easy to do more word associations for each branch or even to add other key words to what I have written there. Once you have generated enough material through key association, look at your result and you should see some relationships that will help you organize and integrate your ideas into themes. Connect these related parts with arrows, codes, and colors. You can pare off anything that is extraneous and then sequence your ideas with numbers or by redrawing your mindmap in a clockwise order.

How do you know when you are done? Theoretically you can keep going forever making associations since everything is connected to everything else. However, you can consider it finished when the information you have generated meets your objectives for the task at hand.

If you have the interest, time, and money, you can buy courses online on how to mind map by Tony Buzan, the original creator of the concept here. You can see examples of mind maps online here and here.

If you ask me, this is one great way to stimulate some creativity in your homeschool kids.

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