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Mind Maps in Action: Bringing Mind Mapping to the Classroom

In this 'Mind Maps in Action' post, we hear from Alessio Bernadelli about his experiences of bringing mind mapping to the classroom and some of the initial struggles and eventual successes of doing so.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

My name is Alessio Bernardelli and I am currently working with The Institute of Physics as a Teaching and Learning Coach, Network Coordinator and Editor of talkphysics.org, but I am also the Founding Director of CollaboratEd.org.uk, an award winning professional development company for teachers. I taught Physics for over nine years and I was Head of KS3 Science for five years in Wales. During my career I won a number of national and international teaching awards for innovative use of technology in education and that is one of my biggest passions, as I believe technology is a powerful channel to engage learners and allow them to reach their full potential. That is true when technology is used starting from sound pedagogy and not for technology’s sake.

How were you first introduced to mind mapping?

I first heard about Mind Mapping during my PGCE course, but no one really explained its principles to me, so spider diagrams, Mind Maps, etc… all looked and meant the same to me at the time. I liked the idea that I could link different concepts together, but there was something in the way I was Mind Mapping that made it quite ineffective for me and, therefore, for my students. Eventually, when I was on holiday in Cardigan I came across the Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan. It was in a dusty corner of a charity shop. All books in that basket were only 10p and this one was even hardback! I immediately bought it and started reading it with great interest. At last, I could see the reason behind Mind Mapping and I learnt about what Tony calls the Mind Mapping laws. I had never thought there were any rules in Mind Mapping and I found that a bit strange at first. But I then realised how useful and sensible these “laws” were. Using the same colour for parent and daughter branch, adding images on each branch, adding emphasis in thickness and shape of branches all make important key concepts more memorable and helps you see the bigger picture. But the “law” that really made the difference for me was to use one key word per branch only. This increases the number of branches, hence associations, that you can link to a branch and it increases the associative power of your Mind Maps. I have to admit that it was pretty hard at first to stick to this rule and even harder still for my students, but once I got a bit of practice it became easier and easier, to the point that it seemed unnatural and counterproductive to Mind Map in other ways.

What role does mapping play in your day to day life?

I use Mind Mapping on a regular basis now and the next logical step after reading the Mind Map Book was to search a digital tool that could help me Mind Map at speed. Don’t get me wrong, I still love hand drawn Mind Maps, but tools like iMindMap have allowed me to get so much quicker at drawing effective Mind Maps, to the point that I can now even take real time notes using iMindMap. I use Mind Mapping for planning, evaluating and in teaching. Presenting concepts through a Mind Map adds an extra layer of understanding in my opinion that helps unlock difficult and sometimes more abstract concepts, like many Physics topics.

How have students reacted when introduced to mind maps?

You often get students who are intrinsically against Mind Mapping and they usually say things like “That’s not how my brain works!” and it is hard to judge them. After all, they have been taught for many years to write notes in long sentences, with one single colours and in nice neat straight lines, so to many Mind Mapping looks at first messy and non-intelligible. Rather than not being the way their brains work, Mind Mapping is alien to many learners because their brains have been trained to process information in a very linear way, a way that is actually unnatural for the brain. If I asked you to think about the word car, virtually no one would see the three letters CAR in their minds. You more likely are thinking about your car, or the car of your dreams, and so on. In other words, every concept you can imagine is mainly transmitted and processed by your brain through images and more complex concepts are a mesh of images and ideas connected together through various links. In this sense, Mind Mapping is the only technique that allows you to mirror the way your brain actually processes information, unlike linear note taking.

So, you can imagine that I wasn’t very popular at first with my students when I introduced the one word per branch rule in the classroom, but I strongly believed in its effectiveness and stuck with it. Eventually my learners became familiar with it and began to see how useful it was. Some of them produced some superb Mind Maps, e.g:

This physics mind map from year 10 pupil, Kira: http://www.biggerplate.com/mindmaps/N7iYdogD/stopping-distance-by-kira

This fantastic A-level Map on Magnetic Forces by Anthony, who always insisted he didn’t get Mind Mapping: http://www.biggerplate.com/mindmaps/dGuBnpMz/magnetic-forces-by-anthony

My favourite one from a Year 7 boy, on circuits: http://www.biggerplate.com/mindmaps/V4R4BZ4P/circuits-by-dylan

What do you think is the greatest benefit of mapping in general, and in an education context specifically?

Mind Mapping is like a window to your brain and it really unlocks its potential unlike any other technique I have ever used. Mind Mapping literally changed my life and helped me to think smarter and see the bigger picture in any situation. In more than one occasion I found myself overwhelmed by too many and too difficult tasks and just Mind Mapping about them helped me to see what I needed to prioritise, that the tasks were not that difficult in the end and that I actually had time to complete all tasks to a good standard. So, the power of seeing the big picture cannot be underestimated, but Mind Mapping is much more than that, because it also allows you to see fine details and link important concepts and ideas together. It really is a comprehensive tool that should be used and encouraged by all.

Would you like to add anything else?

I have been sharing my personal Mind Maps on Biggerplate.com for years now and you can find them here Biggerplate.com/asober.
My CollaboratEd’s Mind Map are at Biggerplate.com/CollaboratEd and examples from my students’ Mind Maps are at Biggerplate.com/CroesyPhysics

A huge thank you to Alessio for sharing his experiences with us! If you have a 'Mind Maps in Action' story to share, get in touch by commenting below, or via Twitter (@Biggerplate)!

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Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
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