Anne Stanton 3/2/09
The mind is a wondrous thing, and even more wondrous when it can picture or visualize a new concept.
Thats the philosophy of Brian Lynch, director of the gleaming icon Learning tutoring center above Cuppa Joes in Traverse Citys warehouse district. (Note: the business intentionally spells its name, icon, in the lower case.)
The tutoring center opened in January, but a dozen educators across the country have been working for years on developing this new visual learning system. The education team believes that students should be taught the big picture of a particular subject before getting to the details. That way the brain develops an organized matrix of the topic and can fit in events and facts where they make sense and connect to other facts.
For example, you might ask a student what came first: the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. Some students dont know because they dont have the big picture of our countrys history. Too often, teachers give a little piece here and a little piece there, but the student doesnt know the whole picture.
And all that disorganized information is easily forgettable.
Icon learning organizes the information in what are called image maps that use visual mnemonicsfunny images that makes something easy to remember. Theres a big emphasis on humor. We know people retain information best if its sexual, humorous or grotesque. In education, of course, we can only tap into humorous, Lynch said.
Every time a new concept is introducedthe biography of a president, for examplethe student is asked to reference back to the image map and place the information into the order it belongs. These image maps or word webs let the student quickly plot and connect large amounts of information.
Im a tough sell when it comes to new concepts. So I started applying this to my classes, said Lynch, who teaches government at a Traverse City charter school. I used word web maps in my class, visual learning images, and funny icons for class one. For class two, I taught in the traditional way. On the next exam, class one did much better. So then to make sure it wasnt a case of class one having a higher percentage of smarter kids, I flipped the approach, and class two scored markedly higher.
Lynch said the icon development team has correlated its lessonsfor students in grades three through 12with the State of Michigans education requirements. The approach encompasses all topics except foreign languages.
The visual learning approach also has value for all ages no matter where they are in life. If youve returned to college for a new degree, this visual learning approach might be of great value, he said.
I have found that all people can visualize and have pictures floating around their heads. If I flash a two-second picture, a person can retain far more than if I flash a block of words. Theres the cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, and thats true.
Images are retained in long-term memory much better than text alone and allow you to think more expansively.
Whats the third letter before the letter M? If you think visually, youll know it right away because you can picture the alphabet. If you can picture it in your head, you can easily move forward in time and backward.
There are a lot of applications beyond education. People in business use this approach frequently. Parts of it have been implemented in schools, but its difficult to change tradition. Thats why our group decided to try it with a private tutoring center. The thinking is, if we can successfully introduce it in Traverse City, it can work anywhere in the country, said Lynch.