Creating Mind Maps to Learn

In my paid job (yes, I need to make the distinction), I teach a couple of classes on how to be successful in college. As the instructor, I introduce students to effective note-taking methods, growth mindset principles and library research skills, among other topics. Although I like to write and take notes by hand, one of my favorite activities is to make mind maps. It’s just the right combination between art and writing. Creating mind maps is a generative process. Creating mind maps to learn means developing a deeper level of understanding.

A picture of a mind map for the book: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

My completed mind map of the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

When you are forced to synthesize the information you are reading or hearing, your brain forms new connections to that material. It’s connecting the information you know with the new material you are learning. I wouldn’t recommend it for initial lecture-based notes, but it’s great for going back and really learning the material. It forces you to organize the information so that it makes sense. In effect, you are “studying” the material, but you get to do some art at the same time.

Step 1: Take Notes

A really good mind map starts with written notes. I teach my students to use the Cornell Method for taking notes since it provides an easy way to quiz yourself (and research shows that quizzing yourself is one of the most effective ways to learn the material).

These aren’t in Cornell format, but I don’t need to quiz myself on the material…I merely want a reference for later.

Step 2: Pick out the Key Points

As with most books, typically, you don’t need to memorize everything you read. Pick out the key points that you want to remember. It could be key dates or relationships. For my book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, I wanted to remember some of the many tips she gave for crafting a successful children’s book. She has so much useful information, one could do a mind map on each chapter. I want something inspiring to hang over my desk. To nudge me when I get stuck.

Step 3: Complete a Rough Draft

Now that I have the information, I need figure out how to organize it on piece of paper. Plus, I want to think about how to draw some visuals to go along with it. Visuals tend to stick in our minds better than words. According to Sketchnote Handbook author Mike Rhode, you don’t have to be an artist to make your notes more visually appealing. But since I like to draw, I’ve added in some sketches. For my first draft, I had to figure out how I was going to fit everything on the page. I knew I wanted to focus on the elements of crafting a good story, so I made sure to devote a large part of paper to those concepts.

A picture of creating a mind m ap rough draft

This is super messy and sat in my book while I gathered more notes, hence the creases.

Step 4: Use a Pencil

Since I like to change my mind a lot, I use a mechanical pencil to complete my final mind map. After I’m happy with the placement of information, I’ll use a variety of ink pens to outline the material. My current favorites are these Micron pens, purchased at my local art store. I like the variety of pens — each with a smaller nib. The 001 size was perfect for the fine writing I needed to include.

Here’s a close-up of my almost completed mind map.

Step 5: Add Color

Once I outline everything in black, I like to go back and add color. In fact, this is probably my favorite part. I love a good coloring project.

a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used Faber-Castell color pencils to complete the map.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

Ultimately, this mind map took me a couple of months to complete (hey, I’m busy)! That wouldn’t be realistic for a college student. However, I could have made a map for each chapter, rather than trying to cover the entire book in one mind map. Use your judgement and decide how you want to use the mind map. For me, this map is the perfect size (11 x 14) to display over my desk.

 

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego® Crane

As the kids get older, they have more outside interests. They also have more at-home responsibilities. This has meant less free time to relax and build freely with LEGO bricks. However, after seeing the Art of the Brick, my kids have been inspired to work with their Legos®. Their rooms have been flooded with bricks and there has been some yelling as we, the parents, have stepped on them. Otherwise, let the building commence!

a picture of a boat and a cargo crane made out of lego bricks. A lego crane

Lego® crane made by R, age 11. The boat was pre-built, but he created everything else.

I’m not sure I will be restarting the Brick Chronicles series, but you can check out our past posts. Some of my favorites include: Ode to Crash Course, Mini Lego Cruise Ship, Articulated Lego Truck, Hinged Box, EV3 Conveyor Belt, Mini Lego Microscope, and the Feeder Machine.

Happy building!

an upclose picture of a lego crane made out of lego bricks

Shadows of the Eclipse

In north Florida we had a 90% solar eclipse. Ninety percent sounds like a lot of sun cover, right? Au contraire, my friends! This is Florida: the Sunshine State. Among my set of Florida homeschooling moms, the eclipse was compared to a cloudy, but rainy day. Nothing too special. Sure, it cooled off for an hour or so, but it was still pretty hot!

Thankfully, my husband is super excited about space-related things and compensates for my lack of interest. He brings his enthusiasm to our family discussions and sparks our curiosity.  He also works from home (lucky us), so he kept running out to check on the eclipse’s progress. I mean, every 5 minutes. He was that thrilled. Throw in two, free eclipse viewers from our local library and the great eclipse viewing was off and running!

Dad wondered if the kids were going to draw the eclipse…and the rest is history.

After a stern lecture about the perils of taking off the glasses, I let the boys venture out to watch the eclipse. I felt obligated to personally supervise my eight-year-old’s use of the glasses. Ahem. Burnt retinas are pretty bad.  And he’s eight.

Shadows of the Eclipse

While everyone was looking up, I took my husband’s advice and looked down…at the shadows.

At the height of the eclipse, the sun passed through the leaves of an oak tree and made crescent moons!

The colander produced some wicked crescent shapes!

Now, that sparked my artistic sense of wonder!

 

Visiting the Art of the Brick

Last weekend, my family and I met up with friends (and more family) to see the “Art of the Brick.” This free show, held in Tampa, displayed a number of pieces by artist, Nathan Sawaya.  The catch? All of the art was constructed with LEGO bricks.

A picture of a LEGO replica of part of the Bayeux Tapestry, made by the brick artist.

Sawaya’s work included replicas of 2D art, as well as original 3D sculptures. This is part of the Bayeux Tapestry ( a personal favorite of mine).

LEGO Art – The Art of the Brick

I have seen pictures of his work, but it was quite amazing to see it in person. The sheer number of LEGOS required for each sculpture was astounding! Most ranged in the thousands.

Obviously, we have a love for LEGO in this family, but I found Sawaya’s introductory video inspiring. He declared that art is not optional. In a world where we focus more and more on academic subjects and social media, art is often dropped from the school curriculum or brushed aside for more money-making ventures. Or worse, it’s turned into an academic subject itself — no creating required.

a picture of the sculpture of Degas Littel Dancer, made out of LEGOS by artist Nathan Sawaya

What if high school students had to collaborate (in math or science class) to make this? After learning about Degas, of course.

Well, art isn’t going to feed you.

I understand. We need people to clean up after ourselves. We need doctors and researchers. We need teachers. We even need a few lawyers to protect people, but I would argue that suing someone doesn’t adequately feed one, either. I am satisfied with my paid job, but I must create beautiful things.

What would happen if we, as a society, figured out our bare necessities (healthy food, safe shelter, attractive sustainable clothing, books/knowledge, and creative hobby pursuits) and eliminated the filler? Do I need to spend my time with people on Facebook? Twitter? Do I want to encourage the proliferation of social media for self-promotion’s sake?

All of us have wonderful things to contribute to our communities. Why is it so hard to do that well? The shy among us hope to get lucky in our creative careers, but unless we promote ourselves, we lose out. Imagine if we could wear the same thing for five days (all clean, of course) and spend the rest of our time making art (fully recyclable and sustainable art, of course).

I wish I was brave enough to wear the same thing everyday for a week. Of course, one could argue that fashion is a creative display of art. Ahem.

Creativity & Mental Health

There are some theories suggesting we aren’t creative enough and it’s hurting our mental health. We need to make things as young children (painting, drawing, building, playing music, reconstructing engines, etc.) to become productive adults. We need to lighten the social media burden. I choose to do that with visual art. I make my own art and I encourage my kids to do the same. Their chosen medium has been LEGO bricks (see The Brick Chronicles). It makes my heart smile to see the connection they make with a fellow artist. Art does matter — and I encourage you to support it.

a picture of the statue of liberty made out of LEGO bricks

In June, we saw this LEGO sculpture at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Check out this video on how it was constructed (not created, but actually put together).

 

 

CFK 2017: Sewing & Scratch Programming

Two weeks ago, I returned as a teacher for Santa Fe College’s CFK summer program. Like last year, I am leading a beginning sewing class and two Scratch-programming classes. I absolutely love sewing with young kids and they’ve kept me on my toes as I have created new projects for them to complete. We tackled a somewhat complex project that reinforced some of Piet Mondrian’s abstract art. More on that project in a follow-up post…

Art Lab :: Minecraft Paper Sculptures

As part of our ongoing series, the boys are testing projects from the book, Art Lab for Kids. This week’s lab: paper sculptures. They don’t have to be Minecraft-related, but in my house, Minecraft is always on the brain. The kids’ brains anyway, not mine.

Check out the past Art Lab posts: book review and reverse color underpainting.

a picture of a paper Minecraft sword. Inspried by the book, Art Lab for Kids

C, age 8, made a Minecraft sword. All of those cuts too him a long time….not to mention the stapling!

Minecraft Paper Sculptures

So…you may be thinking: Minecraft, eh? I thought they were learning about art!

Yes, it seems like they just made toys for this particular lab, but the concept was the same. They created a stuffed paper sculpture, but instead of a fish (the given example), they took a familiar idea and ran with it. Even though I do try to discourage consumerism and branding, this was a great pairing. (Besides, I may have a thing for Harry Potter and the Florida Gators…some branding is allowed, and possibly encouraged). Anyway, the boys were super excited about this lab, and they had to use the design thinking process to figure out how their sculptures were going to work.

 

a picture of a green construction paper being used for paper minecraft sculptures. Inspired by the book, Art Lab for Kids.

R (age 11) made a complicated creeper and had to sketch out his design ahead of time.

Crafting to Retain Information

It should be no surprise that we do a lot of arts and crafts at our house. What I find surprising is how much information my kids retain when they make something. Our crafting isn’t just limited to “art time.” Over the years, we have done a number of suggested crafts from our social studies curriculum, Story of the World. During the weeks when we “crafted,” the boys remembered the event much more clearly. I think it has something to do with the generative process of using information to create something new.

We are definitely one of those families that takes time to make things. We don’t cover as much material, but the topics are easily recalled.

a picture of paper sculpture Minecraft creeper and diamond sword

Creeper made by R, age 11. Sword made by C, age 8.

**This post was originally published on June 19, 2017. Sadly, it was deleted from the site when my server was switched. I have finally fixed the issue. (P.S. Don’t use GoDaddy for web site hosting. Their customer service is awful). **

Watercolor Practice – Big Ben

Last month, I started a Craftsy watercolor class with the fabulous instructor, Kateri Ewing. That being said, I’m only halfway through the course. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been wanting to work on a picture of Big Ben for the last six months. Let me emphasize that this is watercolor practice. I can see that I made a lot of mistakes. The completed picture doesn’t have the right “feel” to it, I think. I need to loosen up a bit, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that!

a picture of a hand-painted watercolor practice picture of big ben

The reference image and painting prompt is from the book, No Excuses Watercolors by Gina Armfield .

Watercolor Practice – Knowing Your Materials

I had grabbed the random 140 lb watercolor paper that we had (probably bought for the kids), but it did not hold up to multiple water glazes. I think I wrecked the paper tooth in the upper right corner and I’m not even sure how that is possible…

I was also using a large (size 14) synthetic watercolor brush for the background and it was the first time I used it. Lesson learned. Test ALL of my brushes first. My other brushes are size 2 and size 8, both sable (or something similar).

Watercolor Practice – Drawing

For the past year, I have been returning to my ‘fine arts’ roots. I’ve always “made” creative things while sewing, knitting, or quilting, but it’s only recently that I’ve been dedicating time to drawing. Last year, I took a color pencil class through Craftsy which forced me to draw more. I discovered that I loved it…and missed it. A lot.

Since I wanted the drawing practice, I chose to sketch out Big Ben rather than copy the line drawing from the book. It was fun to figure out how to add the shading with cross-hatching. I think this is an area I can work on in the future.

a ink drawing of Big Ben, to be used for watercolor practice. Inspired by the book, No Excuses Watercolor

I love using ink and watercolors. I like it better than trying to replicate an exact picture.

I’m looking forward to tracing this Big Ben outline and trying again with a different approach. But, I should probably return to class. Or maybe not.

Art Lab for Kids :: Reverse Color Underpainting

The kids and I have been making our way through the book, Art Lab for Kids. This week’s featured lab: reverse color underpainting. (Check out the Art Lab book review post).

a kid's painting of a seaside using reverse color from art lab

R’s landscape painting. He used the reverse color underpainting technique.

Underpainting

According to Jerry’s Art Arama, “underpainting is a first layer of paint applied to a canvas or board and it functions as a base for other layers of paint. It acts as a foundation for your painting and is a great way to start your painting off with some built in contrast and tonal values.” For a more advanced explanation, see how the old masters used this technique.

The masters used oil-based paints, but my kids use acrylic paint and watercolor paper. They are practicing, so there’s no need to have a stack of canvas boards laying around! I like how Susan Schwake (Art Lab author) showed a completed example for this lab. My oldest son wanted to do something similar, but it was up to us to figure out what colors to use for his underpainting.

a picture of a boy sketching from a picture on the ipad. Inspired by the book Art Lab for Kids

We found a landscape picture online which looked similar to the example given in the book.

All told, this was a fabulous art lab. He learned a new technique and created some cool art. Plus, he had to wait between layers, so it reinforced the idea that art can (and should) be a multi-day project. There’s no need to complete a piece in one sitting.

a picture of a boy painting with acrylic paints. Inspired by the book, Art Lab for Kids

Since we didn’t print out the picture, R write down the colors he wanted.

Of course, now I want to add some Chibitronic LED stickers to this landscape. Wouldn’t it look great with a flashing buoy in the distance?

a kid's painting of a seaside using reverse color from art lab

Free to Make : Cardboard Box Cars

While I was working, the boys were left to their own devices. This meant they had a full morning free to do whatever they wanted, provided there was no power tool usage or video game playing. (The “new to us” band saw requires Dad’s supervision, and video games are reserved for the afternoon heat). Thankfully, we had some recent Amazon deliveries. Cardboard boxes! Woo!

a picture of an 8-year-old boy creating a car from a cardboard box.

C, age 8, is hard at work on his cardboard vehicle.

I’d like to tell you they were inspired by this book from the library, Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers. But they weren’t. We didn’t even check that book out until AFTER these contraptions were built. Rather, these boys have always been fascinated with boxes. (As in, give that kid a box…instead of the toy). Thankfully, their projects have gotten more sophisticated as they’ve gotten older.

Made by R, age 11.

Cardboard Box Cars

Their favorite things to make are cars. Obviously. If you can’t drive a real one, there’s something satisfying about making your own. I am especially fond of the computerized system in my 11-year-old’s. I think he has too much Tesla on his mind.

a picture of a boy's cardboard car

An all-electric vehicle…complete with its own ipad.

Cardboard, Free Time & The Maker Movement

And in a somewhat coincidental twist, I finished reading Dale Dougherty’s Free to Make as they were working on their creations. Dougherty is the founder of Make Magazine and one of the people behind Maker Faire. I am very drawn to the maker movement, not just for myself and my children, but as an educator.

I was pretty familiar with most of the content, although it was interesting to see a slim chapter on how schools are incorporating “making.” I am looking forward to more educational research on the maker movement. I just wish we could combine “making” with environmentalism. Right now “making in schools” seems to incur a lot of waste.

I think we just need to find a way to recycle tape. For a short time, tape was banned at my house since it’s not recyclable. We still consume it in limited quantities due to the waste factor. Oh, the things my kids could make with more tape (and free time)!

C’s car has a working accelerating pedal. (His words, not mine).

Book Review – Art Lab for Kids

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

a picture of the art lab for kids book

Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake.

Target Audience: Art teachers, parents, homeschoolers & kids, ages 7 and up
Schwake, Susan. Art lab for kids: 52 creative adventures in drawing, painting, printmaking, paper, and mixed media for budding artists of all ages. Quarry Books, 2012.

Art Lab for Kids

You could say I have a thing for books.

You could say my kids have a thing for books.

Needless to say, we bring home a lot of library books, every week. Often, I am enthralled with my latest non-fiction choice and Susan Schwake’s Art Lab for Kids is no exception. It is well-organized and easy to read.  The accompanying photographs (done by her husband, Rainer) contribute to a simple, but informative format.

But, that’s not the only reason I feel compelled to write about this book. Since we do check out a lot of “how-to” books from the library, many of these books…well, they just get read. We don’t bother with the projects — even if we enjoy the content. Sometimes, it is a time issue. We might be in the middle of a busy work season or everyone is deeply involved in other projects , but often the format looks too messy (for me), or complicated (for the kids). I’m happy to say that Schwake’s book is welcoming and inviting.

There’s something about Schwake’s book that made us jump in and create. In fact, rather than sitting and thumbing through the pages, we’ve chosen projects from her book to complete. Lots of projects.

landscape drawing project from the book, Art Lab for Kids

C (age 8) is sketching a landscape.

Art Labs

Each project is styled as a “lab.” Schwake has divided the book into six main units: making art, drawing, painting, printmaking, paper, and mixed media. Each two-page lab spread includes a picture of the project, detailed instructions and more pictures of some in-progress projects (all done by kids). Most of the labs have a call out which highlights an artist using a similar technique. The profiled people are current artists, and you can find more information about their work with a simple web search.

Art Techniques

I can’t figure out why this book has settled so firmly into our household. After all, we’ve brought home The School of Art, and a number of other kids’ drawing books. We’ve enjoyed reading through those books, but other than Ed Emberley’s drawing books, my kids are not going to sit down and draw from any book I bring home. I know because I’ve tried a lot. Maybe, it’s because this book shows a sample project? They don’t feel so overwhelmed? There’s enough flexibility to copy the project, but also add their own spin to it?

C’s in-progress landscape acrylic painting.

There’s a fine line between teaching, dictating, and facilitating. We need to have room to be creative, but also learn key techniques. I think if we want our children (or ourselves) to become deep learners, we need to ask them to replicate a certain technique correctly. Then, they can add their own creativity to the project. Sometimes, I let my kids do their own thing first, but in a later lesson I will ask them to do it “my way.” Occasionally, they grumble, but I have seen their hard work pay off in later projects – whether that’s in writing, math, or art.  I don’t want to stifle their creativity, but I do want to try something new. At our house, it helps to have an adaptable project to follow.

That being said, we are embarking on an Art Lab project series. It’s a good way to keep the kids’ interested while fostering my own desire to make some art.

a picture of an acrylic landscape painting project from the book, Art Lab for Kids

C’s completed landscape painting.