The Science Behind Creativity and A – Maps

Creativity, Education, Learning, Learning Performance, Study Skills, Teacher Resources

At the hub of pretty much all of our brain’s activity is the reticular activating system. Bear with me this article does get better.

Let’s call it RAS for short. It is the filter for all internal thoughts and for all external information that comes through our senses. Briefly, it is the bit of our brain that decides what we will and won’t be conscious of. RAS tends to adore new or surprising things and focuses on stuff we find relevant or interesting. That is why we are unable to prevent drifting off during a long and boring lecture or can’t concentrate when we are hungry or thirsty.

One way to ensure pupil’s RAS doesn’t filter out your lessons is to tap into the different areas of their brains.Broadly speaking, the brain operates in two main ways, creatively and logically. It is often said the brain is divided into two halves; the right side being creative and the left side is logical. This is, of course, purely figurative as the creative and logical functions of the brain intermingle all over the place. But for simplicity I’m going to use the classic right and left.

Creative activities involve anything that taps into imagination, imagery, rhythm and rhyme. Whether you are running a guided imagery exercise, or getting the class to rap, or watching a video this is appealing to their right brain.  Whereas, anything text – based, or involves ordering and sequencing is obviously logical. Solving math puzzles, making flow diagrams and reading from a textbook are left brain activities.

However, creativity is no good without order, and logic is not productive without an imaginative spark. The two halves have to form neural connections in order to operate effectively. One cannot exist without the other. That is why tasks that use both sides of the brain tend to grab students’ attention as they stimulate the neural connections.

A great exercise for students that uses both sides of the brain is Association Maps or A – Maps. They are particularly good for revision but can be used daily. I use them constantly and my brain gets a mental kick every single time.

A – Maps are a creative and logical diagram that organize thoughts, formulates a structure, and condenses information in an imaginative way. By using colour and images, and forcing the mind to be logical, mapping combines the left and right brain beautiful.

There are just two golden rules to A – Maps;

  1. They are not brainstorms or spider webs; words and images should be written directly on the line not in some bubble floating off somewhere. This is a strict rule, because writing or drawing on lines helps the mind associate and recall the information in the right order and place. See it is very logical!
  2.  Less is more. No sentences, just keywords or images that are triggers.

Here is an outline of a good A – Map. Note how logical the structure is with a central theme, main idea as key branches, then details flowing out. All should link together.

amap basic

Then unleash your students’ imagination and see how effective A – Maps can be. Check out this students’ A – Map on Mice and Men.

A-Map Mice and Men

The science highlights the importance of creative teaching. To me, creative teaching is teaching to enhance the learning process and your role as a teacher. It is about how you present yourself as someone who cares & enjoys their subject, how you motivate pupils to participate and understand, how you go about making learning fun and engaging. That is the essence of creative teaching.

Plenty of research shows a more creative approach to learning improves results. If pupils have an awareness of how they learn they have greater control and ownership over their work. It becomes personal. And we all know that as soon something is personal we focus and work hard to get better results.

In terms of pupil learning, we call it learning performance – focus, energy, enthusiasm, comprehension, and results (hence my company’s name, Learning Performance Training!).

This article can also be found at Schools Improve Net. Feel free to comment or share on twitter


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