Inspiring creative learning with mind mapping

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Have you ever been tasked with a particular activity or project and your mind has gone blank when trying to conjure up any sort of creativity? Initial half-baked and half formulated ideas circulate within your mind, yet as these are undeveloped it can sometimes prove a challenge to progress these thoughts further. It can be frustrating, and even the most naturally creative sometimes struggle to achieve original and innovative ideas.

Children are associated with possessing unbound and limitless imaginations, creating stories and ideas seemingly from nowhere. Yet despite this, even they sometimes struggle to formulate and communicate their ideas within the classroom. Perhaps they find it difficult when asked to perform under pressure or feel afraid to communicate their ideas, worried that their ideas may not be of the same standard as their peers. Therefore, the unique way in which children apply creative thinking to play and social time needs to be coaxed and similarly applied to how they approach their work. Making sure that children recognise and embrace their creative ability as early as possible is crucial in ensuring that they understand that everyone has the ability to be creative.

According to an article written by author Gillian Rodd, entitled, Encouraging young children's critical and creative thinking skills: An approach in one English elementary school, some teachers do not know how to teach children to learn to think creatively. She states that creativity, especially in curriculum domains other than the arts, appears to be neglected and undervalued within the classroom.

So this leads to the question of whether it is possible to teach a child to be creative? If not, what can be done to help support children in achieving creativity?

The power of mind mapping

First and foremost, encouraging creativity can be facilitated through allowing children the time, space and tools required to be creative. Tools might include basic resources such as pens, paper and paint but could also include hardware devices such as laptops as well as software programs. If planning for a project for example, certain techniques could be practiced as a way of developing thoughts innovatively. One technique which is frequently used in schools is mind mapping. A traditional technique, mind mapping has been used for centuries to help people create, formulate and plan ideas. The use of visual learning techniques such as mind mapping has become increasingly accepted as a useful aid to support both children and adults. With some people believing that the mind is organised into left and right-hand sides, and others thinking that it is a less organised structure, mapping encourages the use of a larger part of the brain, which enables more effective thinking. A good memory and creativity are made possible by imagination and association, and these are areas that mind mapping supports. Many people are either visual or kinaesthetic learners, and visual learning facilitates the effectiveness of absorbing information.  

Inspiring thinking via mind mapping

Children are complex and vary hugely in the way they approach a task or project. On being asked to complete a particular project, this is an ideal time in which to challenge them and advocate creative thinking. Whilst some children may have one particular idea or theme for a project, others may have various undeveloped ideas which they need encouragement to help communicate their thoughts. Mind mapping can be applied to both situations to support creativity. On one hand the child with the definite idea may launch immediately into the task only to discover that half-way through they hit a wall or encounter a problem, whereas a less confident child may feel they lack ideas.

Mind mapping is positive in education because it enables children to use an original idea to expand on and cultivate other ideas. Although the initial thought they establish may not be enough on its own, they can often be amazed at what proceeds, developing and linking new concepts from the original tiny fragments of a particular thought. With mapping, children are often astounded at the breadth and variety of what they are capable of achieving.

Brainstorming teaches children to think quickly and provides them with the confidence to communicate the first thing that pops into their head – which can often lead to an incredibly valid and important point. Brainstorming allows this, permitting and even encouraging children to make mistakes - something which is important. According to Jenni Clarke in her article, Sustaining Shared Thinking, encouraging children to think creatively helps them develop the confidence to experiment with new methods without the fear of making a mistake. She states that children should recognise that trial and error is a vital part of the learning process and that the adults around them should encourage children to think again, try again, and find a new solution (www. As mind mapping has no wrong or right answer, instead encouraging learners to simply be open and unbound by restrictions, it is a valuable technique to help enhance the level of creativity in education and also teach children how to be creative in future situations.

ICT to support and develop creativity

Mind mapping software, such as primary resource, Kidspiration 3, or Inspiration 8, which is designed for secondary students and adults, are both particularly good tools to help engage learners and support creativity. Inspiration’s mind mapping resources make planning so much easier for students because there is no need for traditional pen and paper and they can quickly make changes. Ideas can constantly be expanded and students also have the capability to integrate with other technologies, such as multimedia and online hyper linking.

With children becoming increasingly technology and ICT literate they are often keen to use their skills - therefore setting them the task of achieving creativity and combining this with ICT is an ideal way to achieve innovative learning. In fact, according to a recent report conducted by Ofsted, The Importance of ICT, which looks at evidence taken from inspections of ICT in 177 maintained schools, students almost always enjoyed working with ICT and were well engaged by tasks that enabled them to do so. The report states that using ICT contributed effectively to their personal development and in sharing ideas, ICT helped to develop the skills of working independently and cooperatively.’

Mark Oronzio is senior vice president of strategic partnerships for visual learning software producer, Inspiration Software, Inc.

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