Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First Mind Map for Science Olympiad Prep

Earlier this week my older son and I sat down to make our first mind maps. The content was mirrors, about optics in physics. This is part of some home studying and prep my son is doing for a middle school level Science Olympiad event.

What I learned from making this mind map is that there is a lot of thinking and organization of thoughts that goes on in the mind in order to make a complete and accurate mind map.

Some people who are used to working with traditional notetaking on paper, like me, find value in the process of listening to a lecture and thinking quickly about what to write down. The act of writing it down helps us cement it in our minds. We often never look at this again but something about writing it with our hand and seeing the words appear under our own guidance glues it to our brain. Sometimes I can even see an image of the paper and where on the page I wrote that note and can read back from it. When I was in school I used to be able to do this with more of a photographic memory but I don't have much of a need to do this now and can't seem to do it as easily as I used to.

Mind mapping is visual and the use of color and images and symbols is recommended. Although I was not trained to use this study tool until teaching myself this week I have a feeling that for me the value in the process is similar to (effective) note taking in that the most important part of it is the thinking about large quantities of information, figuring out how to summarize it or narrow it down to core concepts. Then asking onself if what one has included is thorough enough to have covered the most important facts.

With mind mapping versus creating an outline or notes on a typical notebook's sheet of lined paper is that the putting down of the information can move from the mind to paper in more of a random way. It is hard to write out notes (in just one attempt) on lined paper as to do that requires organizing all the information in the mind then putting it down in the proper order. With mind mapping as each thing is thought of it can be put down and in the end the mind map can look pretty decent and no one would know that the way it spilled out of the mind onto the paper was more erratic.

Going into this first mind map process with my son I was worried about his prospects for competing in the Science Olympiad optics event as based on classroom review sessions with the coach of the event and based on conversations I had with him it seemed he'd forgotten everything he learned in the classes and labs he took with a high school physics teacher 2-4 months ago. In making this mind map it was apparent to me that 90% of this information was in his mind. He just needed a little effort to extract it (by thinking). In an attempt to be thorough he/we used the textbook Conceptual Physics by Hewitt to review the information to see what might have been missed then that was filled in.

I myself did not know this information so I let him teach it to me and I referred to the textbook as well to learn from.

I think it would be beneficial to my son to make a mind map for all the optics content that may be on the test he will be taking.

I have come to the conclusion that it is time for my son to realize that in this case something that is generally true in schooling situations is probably true for him right now: that to succeed at this academic content event he is going to have to accept personal responsibility for learning difficult content by studying and working hard to learn it. I don't feel that dumping him on the coach and having him attend group sessions is enough. I know that my son is rusty on this content and the most effective and fastest way to get him up to speed is to re-learn it by independent study and to actually study the material using various methods, mind mapping being one of them at his disposal.

Here are photos of our first mind mapping session and what a learning experience looked like in our home the other day. (You can double click on the photos to see more detail if you desire.)

This was a fun exercise to make the mind map and to review this, it completely painless and we worked about 90 minutes straight on it. I enjoyed working with my son in this manner. The process also helped me realize that this is probably the biggest start he has had with the idea of tackling large amounts of high school level content and being able to deconstruct it in order to master it. I have hope!

The only bump in the road was a mini lecture I gave him near the beginning of the process when he declared he didn't remember anything. I talked (lectured) about the need to sometimes actually study and that sometimes being exposed to something in a class once or twice is just not enough to master the content, actual follow up with studying and reviewing content to refresh our memories is necessary. That's the way it is in school and college, that's a fact and although he's been spared a lot of this due to homeschooling with our (in my opinion) relaxed homeschooling it gets to a point where it just can't be avoided any further. Period. Anyway once we got rolling on the mind map 90% of the content was in his long term memory, he just needed to get into the groove to extract it and pull it over to working memory.


Sathya said...

It's great learn of your experience in using mindmaps.. I am currently experimenting with mindmaps at my work and for my life as well. It seems organising the thoughts on to paper, removes a lot of clutter from your mind and also helps to remember your thoughts, now that it is organized. Using MM could be one of the best way for learning and teaching kids

Serena said...

Have used mindmapping for many years; at work, home and homeschooling. Great method for quick review of material and also retention of information!