Tag Archives: work is play

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

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). **

Current Projects

Keeping Track of Projects

My husband and I tend to forget all of the really cool things we do – and work on – each year. We get caught up in the day-to-day activities of working, teaching children, worrying, making lunch (and dinner), cleaning the house (again) and shuttling kids to various activities. Like most people, we are often busy, so we need a little help remembering all of the unique things in our life. We are fortunate to experience new places  – and make a lot of cool stuff. Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. He' sitting it on a top of a re-purposed bookshelf (which he made years ago).

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. It will sit on top of a re-purposed bookshelf. Oh yeah – he made the bookshelf years ago.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh that he created a 4-H project.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, he created a 4-H project. Two weeks ago, he presented his project to a 4H judge. My shy, reserved son beamed when the judge praised his work.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. (He won a grand prize last year). This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Liz has been developing her colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had years ago.

I have been developing my colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had; I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

Joe took our distressed, chipping dining table and stripped it. He then proceeded to sand, stain and lacquer it – repeatedly. It looks amazing.

Books Books Books

Our regular installment of ‘The Brick Chronicles‘ has been interrupted this week by too many books. Books books and more books! Quite frankly, we always have a lot of books around the house – ours and a large quantity from our local library system.

However, this past week the grandparents came into town and the legos were cleaned up. As if to say, of course our house is always this neat and tidy! Regardless, the boys have been enjoying their clean space and seem hesitant to mess it up (which I’m sure will not last much longer). That means our piles of books have been beckoning, practically begging us to get through them so we can get a new stack.

Books Books Books from the Library — Liz’s Collection

Picture of a stack of craft and sewing booksMy husband and I had a rare afternoon – by ourselves – and we happened to be near our large, downtown library. It was like being in a bookstore, except I got to take all of the books home! I have to return them, but I’m happy to have them for a short while.

Books Books Books on Lego Mindstorms EV3

Picture of two lego mindstorms ev3 booksWe own these two books, plus the EV3 Guide I printed out. I’ve been using these for the last few months in preparation for a “Bring Your Own Mindstorms” Clinic I plan to offer this summer. My oldest son is my tester and we’ve finally reached the stage where we are using these books mostly for reference. It also means I’m teaching him how to use a book index – without having to create an entire lesson on it.

Books Books Books on Acrylic Painting for Beginners

A picture of books on acrylic paintingI’m still mentally and physically prototyping for an upcoming summer camp I will be co-leading. We’ll be focusing on making our own props for a stop-motion animation movie and my painting skills need a little work. The whole idea of using complimentary colors for shading is complex…but fascinating. It’s work I really enjoy.

Books Books Books from the Library — 10-year-old’s shelf

Picture of books on a shelfHe’s taking a brief hiatus from too many “fluffy” books, but it hasn’t seemed to hamper his library checkouts. That boy has a lot of interests and the non-fiction section of the library can be a pretty cool place.

Books Books Books from the Library — 6-year-old’s Shelf

Picture of books and DVDs on a shelfOkay, so that book on growing fruit trees is mine, as is the one from Rick Riordan, but the rest are his. Oddly enough, I see none of his Magic Treehouse books and only a few of Nate the Great. Most likely, the rest are in a pile on his bed. Bedtime reading is very popular.

Books Books Books on the Montessori Method

Picture of a stack of three montessori booksWith my background in Montessori education, I love to pull out my well-read books on her method. Even though I don’t currently teach in a Montessori school, I use her philosophy daily – with my own children, with the kids in my summer camp and with any lessons that I create. Can the kids do it themselves or teach each other? How can I be a good facilitator? I’ve been missing my Montessori roots lately, and I’m ready to get back to my Sensorial book review series. I’ve been brushing up on my content and reaffirming my belief that the Montessori Method is amazing. Hopefully, you also have a nice stack of books to get through. Happy reading!

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego Addition Problems

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Picture of lego addition problem 10=8+2

Lego addition problem made by C, age 6.

A few mornings ago, I was working with A to reinforce multiplication facts and was introducing the concept of area, while using graph paper and legos. We had the legos out and that drew the attention of the other two boys. Since C is only six, he gets a pass when it comes to a lot of formal learning…especially now that he is reading chapter books. I tend to let him have a lot more leeway with the type of work that he does. So, when he started playing with the legos, I told him that he had to do something with math. Otherwise, he had free reign. I was envisioning him adding the dots to make numbers, but then he busted out the above addition problem.

“It’s backwards,” my husband whispers to me. Yes and no. He is actually demonstrating a great way of re-writing the problem…something many elementary teachers will recognize.  Kids need to become comfortable with the quantities and learn to play with the numbers and numerals – not just memorize the way it’s set up in their math book. He placed the equal sign on the left, but the problem was correct : 8 + 2 = 10.

Now, I just need to figure out how to make ALL math lessons this intuitive and self-directed. I’m working on it.

And, the answer makes 10.

And, the answer makes 10.

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego Leatherman

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

IMG_1813

Lego leatherman tool made by R, age 10.

I know what you are thinking – why are we advocating for pocket knives to be made out of legos? Well…I think it has something to do with being the parent of boys. Despite all of our attempts to provide gender-neutral toys and shelter them from violence and toy guns, my oldest child is fascinated with guns, world wars and pretending to shoot things. Sigh. Plus, he’s ten…and ten-year-old boys are ready for “dangerous” tools.

So, I keep an eye on the research about said things and embrace the “dangerous” things so that I am not denying some biological need. We still strongly advocate for using words and they get in trouble for resolving disputes with physical altercations, but I’ve always encouraged them to build things out of legos that I won’t buy them (and that includes toy guns). This way they get to play in a way that they need – and I can still show my face at the moms’ group.

Ironically, these pocket knives came about because as he gets older, we feel he is ready to experience the “real” thing and that includes a pocket knife. For his tenth birthday, he received a Leatherman tool and he’s been chopping outside things all over the place. It’s a way to teach responsibility while he’s still under our roof. Honestly, he was ready last year, but his younger brother was not and we weren’t sure that it would stay out of said younger bother’s hands.

We still shy away from violent video games (there’s a lot of research on that) and we don’t encourage fantastical movie violence, but we’ve found that for our oldest son – embracing the “dangerous” has actually encouraged a healthy respect for it.

IMG_1814

Lego leatherman tools – opened with pocket knife and small screwdriver.

The Brick Chronicles :: Wood Blocks :: Millennium Falcon

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

A homemade Millennium Falcon, made by C, age 6. (Who hasn't even seen Star Wars).

A homemade Millennium Falcon, made by C, age 6 – who hasn’t even seen Star Wars.

Again, with the wood blocks. I know. I know. I just can’t help myself. I am too impressed and amazed at the creations that come from their brains that I have to share. This is creative thinking – taking something familiar and turning it into something else. Or, vice versa.

And, just a little secret between you and me – this child has never seen Star Wars. We’ve deemed him too young for the violence and the potentially overwhelming movie scenes. CommonSense Media says age seven – and age eight for Empire Strikes Back.  Besides, his brother had to wait until eight, so it seems to be a right of passage at our house. However, that doesn’t stop this younger sibling from learning all about these hidden gems – most likely from asking his brother, who is quite eager to share. But, it’s all well and good. They have something in common and hopefully, the creative juices will keep flowing.

Book Reviews :: a parent’s guide to the montessori classroom

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom. By Aline Wolf.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom by Aline Wolf.

This little booklet was ‘one of many’ lifesavers during my first year as a new Montessori teacher. I was still learning how to facilitate, guide and present the materials to my students and there were days when I found the effort to be futile. Looking back, I still had a lot to internalize – both as a parent and as a teacher. This guide was a short, easy way to reinforce my Montessori purpose – and a great recommendation for parents who were considering the question, “why Montessori?”

Although I love the clear information it gives, prospective parents in today’s landscape might question the seemingly strong focus on “academics.” And, I will admit that I believe unstructured play to be very, very important for young children. Fortunately, I like to think that Dr. Montessori might have felt the same way. She just felt children should do that sort of free play at home – not at school.

The children she “honed her skills with” were poor children who were left to their own devices because their parents worked, in a reckless version of the free-range movement. Slightly older children teaching younger children to roam the streets. Yet Dr. Montessori found that they were craving this intellectual knowledge. They had gotten their fill of free play and were looking for other intellectual outlets. Of course, she did reject those children who could not settle down after a set amount of time, so we can’t exactly trust the ethos that Montessori is for everyone.*

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Wolf’s slim book presents such compelling arguments for the practical life and sensorial “works” in a classroom that many parents will happily pay the high price tag of private school to let their children learn how to carefully pour water! The focus and lengthy concentration that three and four year-olds devote to these activities lend themselves to other pursuits. If anything, I think this extreme focus is the value of a Montessori education. The ability to lose oneself in a task – and to repeat it for the sheer joy of learning – is one of most beautiful things a teacher (or parent) can witness.

The focus of this book is the primary classroom, ages three to six, but Wolf briefly mentions the value of a Montessori education for both elementary-aged students and toddlers. She focuses on many of the different aspects of a Montessori primary classroom and to an uninitiated parent, it would seem as if your child will master all of these skills – geography, botany, reading, writing and advanced mathematics. That does set the bar rather high and I would caution perspective parents to view it more as a buffet of choices for your child.

If they are interested in botany, there are a number of materials to support a child’s interest, but most children will not delve deeply into that area. Parents need to understand that there is only so much time in the day and these materials are intended for a 3-year cycle of education. If your child only comes to Montessori at age three and leaves at age four, their education will look different. If they need an extra year to “settle” down, then they will need extra time to cover the other materials.

If you are considering a Montessori education for your child, grab a copy of this book and peruse the aspects of a good Montessori classroom. Not all schools that call themselves “Montessori” are true to her vision or even her philosophy. The very beautiful Montessori school near our area is only a “true” Montessori school through kindergarten. At that point, the children are given homework and the didactic materials disappear by second grade. That’s not to say that it isn’t a high-quality school, just that it succumbs to the pressure of being compatible with the local public schools.

Hopefully, this book can help you to determine if your prospective school is truly a Montessori school – and if you actually want your child to receive a Montessori education.

* If you have the time, check out the “unauthorized” biography by Rita Kramer for a more neutral take on Dr. Montessori and her method of education.

The teacher plays an important role - not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child has they follow their interests.

The teacher plays an important role – not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child as they follow their interests.

 

The Brick Chronicles :: Wooden Blocks Football Stadium

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

I know it’s not a unique Lego® creation, but I couldn’t resist showcasing this fabulous homemade stadium made from wooden blocks. I especially like that it has the most recent winning score. We’ll just forget about that LSU nonsense, shall we? Go Gators!

This is the swamp.

This is the swamp.

UF vs. Missouri

UF vs. Missouri