Creativity’s Roadmap

Mind mapping success for students

Many people use the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I think the cat is entirely innocent here, and instead am a firm believer that schools are killing creativity and curiosity. Think about it, from kindergarten to high school. Teachers have built a culture that celebrates correct answers and punishes wrong answers. Our educational institutions have created a world that only the right solutions exist.

Reflect on this scenario. A student is in algebra class and presented with a complex problem. The student comes up with a process and gets the correct answer. “Hurray, you developed a creative process for this problem!” Right? The teacher then reviews the problem and proclaims the student didn’t follow the teacher’s exact steps to complete this problem and is incorrect. How deflating for the student.

I see the consequence of this practice in my high school media arts classroom every day. Our classroom thrives on creativity and curiosity, and after launching a new project, I’m often met with blank stares. Many students have a difficult time starting and generating creative solutions. It almost feels like their imagination has been sucked out of them. So many students of mine will look at a film or animation project and ask me, “What’s the right answer?”

“There is none. Art is process!” I’ll quickly remind them, and then begin teaching students how to be creative again.

Divergent Thinking

Life is not a series of linear problem solving, and instead, life’s most significant problems are often solved non-linearly. Here’s where divergent thinking needs introducing into every classroom. 

Divergent thinking is when the brain synthesizes information in different directions and at various intervals. Divergent thinking allows students to engage with learning in many different ways and forces them to develop creative problem-solving skills.

Some of the core benefits of developing divergent thinking include:

  • Using play to make learning fun again.
  • Increase creative risk-taking
  • Empowering all students
  • Provides choice for students
  • Increase collaboration between peers

Mindmaps to the rescue

An example of a mindmap developed for this blog post.

There are many ways to nurture divergent thinking in the classroom. Teachers can celebrate mistakes, develop choice-based projects, or develop alternatives to essays, for example. An easy way to introduce divergent thinking is to get students’ mind mapping

Mindmapping is an organization and brainstorming method developed by English Author Tony Buzan. His brainstorming methods start with a central theme and then radiates outwards into different nonlinear paths. The pathways relate knowledge with simplistic keywords and colors and merge them with images and sketches. 

Benefits of Mindmapping

A study in 2005 produced by Glennis Edge Cunningham indicates that students who created mindmaps in biology classes outperformed those who did not. Some of the benefits to mind mapping include:

  • Improved Understanding
  • Improved Memory
  • Better Grades
  • Improved confidence
  • Deeper thought processing
  • Increased engagement from students

Mind Maps are not exclusive to classroom settings. Instead, mind maps can transform the cognitive abilities found in almost any industry where complex and straightforward problems need to be solved. I developed a mindmap for this blog post. 

Using Mind Mapping in the Classroom

In my classroom, I love introducing students to mind mapping. The response is always the same: “I can’t draw!” I’m quick to remind them “While this is a film class and drawing is not strength of many of us, You CAN think, however!”

We start with developing a random problem. Sometimes it’s whimsical: “How can I carry ice cream without a bowl?” Then the class engages in throwing ideas out while I demonstrate how to construct the mindmap, madly drawing and writing on the board. Once we have a plethora of ideas, we reflect and engage in a discussion of our findings. From there, students can now use mind maps to identify the goals of their next project.

I’ve had students produce incredible projects based on a mind mapped brainstorm. For example: “A Tip on Torment,” an experimental film produced by one of my current seniors. Mind maps empower my students to feel comfortable thinking creatively and engaging with their learning in unpredictable ways. I hope that all classrooms can provide a mind mapping experience for all students.

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