I was just writing a blog on mindfulness and working on a MOOC course on the same topic. I have been working on assignments, reading and rereading, understanding some and trying to figure out the others (for my MA). Also, planning for classes and writing reports…
Sitting in one position the whole evening did not help with my back. So I decided to get up and stretch and put away my computer. I wanted to clear my head and start thinking afresh on timeless ways of learning and visual leadership. Sometimes sleeping on something or taking your mind off helps.
I walked around a bit and without realising, I headed to the kitchen. Some may go for a walk, some may sketch (and I have tried both), or whatever suits them. But for me, it is the kitchen. It is the place for me to muddle around and clear my head (to meditate). It does not help, that I had baked a cake this morning, waiting to be eaten. I may put on more weight, thinking and clearing my head in the kitchen, but that is my place to be! This is where my creative juices flow. Maybe, this is where I have to start my visual (experience) leadership.
He who wonders discovers that this in itself is wonder. – M.C. Escher
A few years ago when I was teaching tessellations, I came across Escher. Escher was a dutch artist who was also a designer, print maker, illustrator and muralist. He was interested in space, illusion and Math. He is best known for tessellations, reality bending shapes and impossible shapes.
As I read about Escher and impossible shapes, I found it most interesting. I consider myself as a non-artist. I have never tried my hand at any art till about 7 years ago when I joined school as a teacher in Bangalore. I attend art class with my 4th and 5th graders and do what they are doing in art. I always say that I am at their level, some of them are way better than me.
Today, I was inspired by Escher. I spent the whole evening making a Mobius strip, a Penrose triangle and an Escher cube. I used youtubevideos to sketch. What I realised today that sketching was very meditative. I felt calm and forgot about all the work I have. Maybe I should spend some time every day to sketch.
Mobius strip is a surface with one side and one edge.In Escher’s Mobius strip II red ants you see red ants scurrying on the Mobius strip.
Comparative thinking is a very natural form of thought that even a small baby has. The baby distinguishes between his parents and a stranger. People compare and contrast all the time. You compare the quality and price when you buy a kitchen utensil, for example. In order to compare, we first need to sort them. We need to decide the attributes we are sorting them by. For example, to sort our kitchen cabinet, we need to choose the attribute, could be by function, material or by size.
Intuitive behaviour is not a formal process. The ability to compare and contrast using a logical, scientific process requires training and understanding of the process of classification, discrimination, transition and use of the right vocabulary. CLASSIFICATIONis the first step where you find attributes (criteria) to compare. DISCRIMINATION is the second step where you distinguish and articulate the differences. From this you draw inferences and conclusions while using TRANSITION or CONTRASTING VOCABULARY like whereas, however, etc.
We use visual thinking tools that enable this kind of thinking. Some of the tools used are the semantic feature analysis chart or matrix diagram, double bubble diagram and Venn diagram. This is an essential tool that can be used across subjects. I have extensively used this in Math, Science, Social Studies and English. Here are a few examples.
Step 1: Classification
sorting kitchen tools
Step 2: Discrimination
double bubble- similarities in the middle and differences on the outside
using attributes comparing and contrasting using venn diagram
8 years ago, when I moved back to India, if someone had asked me about guided visualisation, I would have no idea what it was. I was introduced to it a little over 7 years ago. I always thought meditation was ‘humbug’ since I could never meditate. My mind would wander and I did not know that it was normal for the mind to wander. Then, 7 years ago, I was told that we were going to do some meditation. We started with a mandala which was a very calming process. I have done it many many times after that and have always enjoyed the process. We then were led into guided imagery. The person who was leading us had a very soothing voice and a sense of calm descended on me.
According to dictionary.com, the definition of guided imagery or visualisation is ‘a relaxation technique in which words, sounds, etc., are used to evoke positive mental images, feelings, and thoughts.’ A way to introduce mindfulness is through guided imagery which is a meditative process. Children have vivid imagination and have fewer preconceived notions, so are able to immerse themselves in the process better than adults.
Over the last five years, I have been guiding students with the imagery. Students have a hectic life. They leave home early from home, most often hurriedly and stressed over catching the bus or getting to school on time. This activity calms them. I have been told by my colleagues that I have a soothing voice and soft voice. It is a learning process for student to be able to close their eyes and focus on what is being said. After the guided visualisations, I often ask them to draw or paint what they saw. They all visualise the same thing very differently. After the experience, they say that they feel happy. It brings some quiet and calmness in them. They feel that they can face the rest of the day having positive thoughts. However, not all students are able to go through the process. It takes practice to close their eyes and visualise. This is a great tool for mindfulness.
We often think that thinking comes naturally. It does to a certain level but we need to practice and learn how to think critically and creatively. As teachers and facilitators, we often wonder if we can do something to help our students become better thinkers. Can we teach them these skills? In science especially, we push our students to observe, analyse and question what they learn. Thinking should become a habit. What we should aim to achieve, is that students should have a repertoire of thinking tools.
Learners should be close observers, organise their ideas, reason carefully and reflect on how they are making sense of things. They should be asking thought provoking questions, making connections, coming up with explanations, challenging those explanations and exploring alternative perspectives. One of the thinking routines we use is called SEE THINK WONDER. (See – what do you notice, Think- what do you suppose is going on, Wonder- does it make you want to know more). The Project Zero group at Harvard has extensively researched this tool.
As a science teacher, I often get students to do experiments. When students are involved in ‘doing’ and ‘observing’ they learn and retain information much better. When students learned about micro-organisms, we did many experiments, such as observing yeast grow, making yogurt, observing mould (fungi) growing on bread in different conditions and watching bacteria growing in petri dishes. Students were observing (SEE) this and were asking questions. They were THINKING and WONDERING how organisms, which can only be seen under a microscope, can be seen in a petri dish. They wondered how many bacteria were in the petri dish. They extended their learning by researching further. They learned how many are there on the pointed tip of a pin and extrapolate to how many could be in a colony. They also connected with what they saw around and wrote poems on microbes.