Last month Tony Buzan visited Kirkby Sports College in the Knowsley school district of North-West England for a day of Mind Mapping with the pupils.
This followed many months of conversation between ThinkBuzan and Knowsley as we have been watching them turn assumptions about what education should be on their head.
I spoke to Sue Baker, the Learning and Attainment Manager. She gave me the lowdown on Tony’s visit, what they’ve been doing to improve their academic status and what a ‘mentally literate’ school might look like.
Kirkby is part of the Building Schools for the Future Initiative and staff are working together to encourage pupils to aspire and achieve Sue explained “In order to do this, we needed to change the whole approach to learning.’
Two years ago, as part of the initiative, Kirkby 6 other schools in the Knowsley area were teamed up to create new ‘Centres for Learning’. This was a bold project designed to rejuvenate education in deprived areas of the country.
With the motto ‘Inspire, Believe, Achieve’, Kirkby took the scheme to a level beyond the bricks and mortar. With Sue’s history in the area, she pitched the need to ingrain mental literacy strategies across the board. It would not be enough to change the physical environment if they were going to inspire their pupils, they would have to change the way they think.
In order to put some fire in their bellies, the schools are giving the pupils ownership of their own education. Rather than spoon feeding them information in bitesize, for-the-exam portions, the Knowsley Centres are trying to show the pupils the big picture and get them really thinking. Mind Mapping has become an integral part of how they are doing this.
By September every department in Kirby will be using iMindMap and every child will be taught how to use it. As the first wave of this, a group of students have been trained up as iMindMap Champions and will be going out to the different Centres to pass on the skills to their peers.
By getting the pupils to teach each other, Kirkby have gotten them involved and invested in the initiative from the outset. The aim is to have Mind Mapping completely embedded in the school infrastructure.
From note taking to revision, and lesson planning to delivery, Sue has in mind applications for Mind Mapping that reach across all school activities. Mind Mapping will be used inside and outside the classroom, serving to reinforce the ‘bigger picture’ approach to learning that they are trying to create.
A key initiative is the Personal Learning Environment, or PLE. This is an online space where the pupils can access the whole curriculum, from school or at home. From September, the PLE will be presented in Mind Map form. Pupils will be able to download Mind Maps from the website, use them to complete assignments and then upload them again for marking and review by the teachers. As the pupils have become so engaged with their new iMindMap software, the team at Kirkby is confident that this will get the pupils working more efficiently and enthusiastically at home.
The pupils will also be given online Learning Mind Maps covering their whole course on the PLE, with hyperlinks to resources for each topic. They can then track their progress and see a complete picture of their learning.
This is also really useful for when pupils have any time off school as they can clearly see any gaps and know exactly what they need to catch up on. The PLE gives the pupils more control and fosters a sense of ownership and independance.
To create a more interactive and democratic learning environment, Kirby have set up Pupil Voice. This is a way for pupils to feedback on their learning experiences and make suggestions for improvements, using iMindMap.
In the past this has mainly consisted of Yes/No answers, but with the introduction of Mind Maps as a way to feedback their thoughts, they have a far more creative and generative space in which to share their ideas with the teachers.
Taking this a step further, Kirkby has created Learning Champions; pupils that will sit in on and observe lessons. They are given a Mind Map template of key criteria to focus on, such as pupil engagement and understanding, and can feedback to the teachers afterwards. The Mind Map template they use provides them with jumping off points to start thinking about, but also gives them the space to explore and generate more ideas.
“The kids are great at giving feedback. We use it for ideas at our department meetings and it has been a great success.”
For Kirkby to see a genuine, fundamental change in the progress and prospects of their pupils, the initiative has to extend beyond the school gates.
This has lead to the birth of the Parent Outreach Department, whose focus will be to teach parents to Mind Map. By making Mental Literacy a community project, the parents will be able to help support their children, as well as learning new thinking tools to use in their own lives.
After we set up the Knowsley schools with iMindMap and found out more about what they are doing there, Tony decided to take a little trip there himself. A day of Mind Mapping with a group of 50 pupils was greatly enjoyed by all, and Tony was overwhelmed by the potential he could see in what they are doing.
“Kirkby is a beacon. The students come from an area where only 4% of the population have attended university and the living environment is at one of the lowest levels. Yet the students I met demonstrated incredible intelligence and by the end of the day 100% of them said they were going to go to university. Traditional learning methods crush creativity and self-belief. Every child needs to be made aware of the potential they possess.”
The effect one day of mental literacy training can have on the pupils shows just how powerful the initiative in Knowsley could be. Bombarding pupils with information, deadlines and the threat of exams as motivation has not led to educational success.
It doesn’t take billions of pounds of investment to rebuild the schools into architectural masterpieces either. Simply making it interactive, giving pupils independance and ownership of their own education, and providing the tools to get them thinking freely and creatively, can really change attitudes and achievements.
“The pupils [Tony] met would not necessarily have aspired to go to university, however, given 3 hours with Tony, and they are aiming for Oxbridge! How fantastic. The head of teaching and learning was present for the session and said: ‘it’s wonderful to see our kids thinking outside the box’… we have never seen such an immediate impact on pupils.”
Sue Baker, Learning and Attainment Manager
Kirkby Sports College has just achieved Lead Practitioner Status for Gifted & Talented students. A lengthy and rigorous inspection process, covering results, teaching and learning has shown an amazing amount of progress amongst the Gifted and Talented pupils. They attribute this to the whole brain thinking processes that have been implemented, primarily Mind Mapping.
We will be keeping our eye on Knowsley and working more closely with them to see what unfolds, so stay tuned…← 6 Ways to Activate Your Child’s Mind in the Summer Holidays. . . For FREE The ThinkSmart Workshop →