Why Should We Map Out Ideas

By Tom Whitby

My path to discovering the power of technology for mind mapping and empowering young writers.

Over the dozen or so years that I have been blogging about education, I have rarely taken on the task of endorsing any specific education product. I was always struggling with ethical concerns about throwing my reputation out there for product endorsements. My life has always been complicated by the fact that my wife, Joyce, has always been involved in the commercial side of education working for some leading industry giants, as well as smaller companies, and now as an industry consultant for emerging and growing companies in the education space. Together our circle of both friends and colleagues has been on both sides of the education industry. I knew the education product users; educators, and Joyce knew the education product providers, and vendors. It provided for a complicated, but interesting mix. It led to many discussions of users vs. providers conversations. This is my disclosure statement.
ideamapper on screen
My 34-year experience as a middle school/high school English teacher took me from a period in education with little or no technology through to a period of Labs to laptops. In that time I was introduced to many, many applications for education, some gems and some lemons. My tendency was to favor interactive stuff over digital worksheets. I also favored software that was more learning oriented, as opposed to teaching. I leaned toward advocating for student-centered learning early on. If I was working harder on assignments than my students, there was something wrong. Back then I was involved with an integrated social studies/English project that incorporated personalities of the 20th century to include a brief bio, major contribution, and the impact on the 20th century. Students were assessed in both English and Social Studies.
That is when I was introduced to mind mapping for the first time in technology. I was familiar with previous brainstorming techniques using poster boards with ideas hung up in various places in a room as students moved from poster to poster adding relevant ideas to each poster and then bringing them all together and trying to arrange them in some organized manner. It was really clunky, but it was engaging, and somewhat creative. The process, however, was way too time-consuming and bordered organized chaos, as well as being a poor tool for a classroom setting. The graphic organizer alternative was often more like a worksheet exercise, making it ineffective for promoting creative thinking.
Once these processes were absorbed by technology it provided less chaos through a process of structured organization and more collaboration through visual representation of both text and graphics. This was what I needed to get my students through what they thought was a monumental integrated project. They found the usually tedious part of conceiving and organizing their ideas for the project more of a creative and, need I say, fun task. What I liked most about it was that I did not have to sell it as an idea to kids. They recognized its ease, purpose, and value after being led through a few teacher-directed sessions. It was then that they were able to take ownership and use it for any other project that required organizing ideas into a textual product from conception to completion.
ideamapper on laptop

Ideas are put into individual bubbles that are moved and manipulated into a logical order. Simultaneously, the tech develops a text outline to coincide with the graphic ideas of the map. Once the idea map is developed, the outline has been magically completed. As the English teacher, I no longer needed to answer the age-old question: What do we need an outline for? The outline is developed in a word processing component that allows it to be fully textualized within the program. Any paragraph can be ordered differently by moving the graphic bubble to a new location on the mind map.

The product I am now working with is called ideamapper. It will be introduced for purchase at the upcoming ISTE Conference in Philadelphia this June. Here is a link to a short video that explains it very nicely.

What I love about this company is that they are open to and welcome teacher input. They want teachers to use it with their classes and get feedback to improve the product. There are too few companies that do that. In that endeavor, they provide free access for a period of time to teachers willing to try it out with classes. It does not require any financial commitment. There is no software to download. Access is provided over the Internet, and it will run on any computer, laptop, or Chromebook. All they require are your reactions, comments, and suggestions about the product. Sign up for the free pilot.

This may not be feasible for the end-of-the-year project, but it will work for any writing unit, or project within any subject area for a summer school program. Here is the link for any educator interested in exploring ideamapper https://webappdemo.ideamapper.com. There are also video tutorials that you may access as you explore the tool, you will find it more intuitive than you expected.

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