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Sunni Brown

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Why is visual literacy discouraged in most cultures & WHAT CAN WE DO to change that?

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Visual literacy, if described as the ability to communicate via doodling, drawing, and sketching or described as the ability to display complex information in visual language formats, is often a literacy missing in adults despite it being a universal and natural inclination in children. Why does it disappear? And more importantly, what can we do to alter this course?

**ADMIN UPDATE: Sunni Brown has asked to extend her Conversation for two weeks. She will be jumping in to catch up with responses over the next two weeks. Happy posting everyone!


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  • Nov 1 2011: I am a visual learner, and I struggled with the way mathematics was taught at my school and university. I later did my own research into visual methods for learning the same things. For example, the water analogy for electronics, and ancient Greek (and older) methods for calculating geometries using shapes, which were more visual-based, and came before algebra. This really helped me and I think it would help other right-brained people if they were taught both ways.

    I think children should be taught both visually and verbally, to make learning more effective, and to reduce classroom problems that occur when teachers think in a different way to students. There is also the generation gap in brain structure caused by differences in environments while growing up - my generation grew up with computers, my teachers grew up with books - as a result, our brains are structured differently. Kids that think differently could fail classes just because the teacher isn't catering for different brain types. This puts kids off subjects like mathematics, science, engineering, electronics etc. which they could potentially learn if they were taught the right way.
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      Nov 1 2011: You are so on target!!!

      And ancient Greeks knew how to do it, just look at the Socratic school -the Maieutica- where a SMALL group of students were guided by a wise teacher through an inquisitive thinking process, questioning everything and reviewing all accepted knowledge inside and out. The assumption was that we do not really know anything yet, we have to discover all. Also, that everyone was able to access this truths through this process.
      Outside, under the trees, with visuals and tactile experiences... it sounds very avant-garde if you ask me.

      I can hear Cher now, "If I could turn back time..."
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      Nov 1 2011: Math history has been the most appealing approach to the subject for me. By telling a story it explains the 'why' portion so well. Where it came from, how it got there, and why we do it the way we do today. When I found out that algebra was done with two parallel number lines it blew my mind. All of these ties with Greek history you mention would be tied beautifully into myth readings. These combinations offer an in depth learning experience.
      • Nov 1 2011: Guys, I absolutely agree! Also, I think teaching things alongside other material and showing how they are related further reinforces long-term memory. If you teach mathematics on its own, numbers, functions and their relationships can lack meaning. Applying the relationships in real world situations, adding a background story and history to why it is done that way really helps students.

        Perhaps doodling looks immature, but studies I've read/heard about show doodling is really beneficial to memory and creativity (sorry about lack of references). Also, music is really beneficial to mathematical understanding, with all the harmonic relationships etc. Education and industry needs to catch up with science!
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        Nov 1 2011: Mr Froebel, the creator of kindergarten, also created the core of his program, called The Gifts. Look into that, worth it!

        It was a math set, ALL MANIPULATIVES, all visual and kinesthetic, that is admired even today. He favored open ended activities, LOTS of "play" time, where children explored and talked to discover natural laws. All rare things in today's education, by the way...

        I have never seen M. Bradley's version (do you mean a Hasbro game similar to the Gifts?)
        But I have been trained on the 1820 set (a replica), the progression of concepts, the goals, etc.

        Incredible material, challenging even for adults!
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          Nov 2 2011: Milton Bradley distorted Mr. Froebel's Gifts to the point that they were unrecognizable compared to their original version's intent. Sad to see this distortion pursued for the sake of profit.

          His Gifts do live on in many respects in Waldorf education, which is gaining in popularity worldwide.
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      Nov 1 2011: I have taught math for a long time, and we always have done it with sketching, making diagrams, and so forth. Even calculus involves sketching. It is a fundamental aspect of figuring out what the problem is really asking. Students are expected to have diagrams as part of showing how they did their work.I think math instruction is one area in which sketching things out has long been accepted as necessary.I have never taught writing, but it seems to me the way kids are taught to sketch out plots of stories also involves diagrams. And social studies involves lots of map-making and timelines done by hand by kids.
      So in my teaching career and watching my three kids in schools public and private, I cannot say I have seen a neglect of visual tools in learning and communication.
      • Nov 2 2011: Well said, Fritzie. I think we need to be very careful about not over-generalising on this thread. There is a lot of good education going on that makes extensive use of the visual.
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      Nov 2 2011: I can definitely relate with you. I excelled in Geometry and flunk badly in Algebra. Had to jump 10+ schools in my entire life.

      I'm glad that my kids are living in this day and age that schools are aware of the different kinds of learning although most don't do anything about it.

      It's the system that kills visual learning. Example: My kids take Math everyday and have Art once a week.
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        Nov 2 2011: Oliver, isn't it an oxymoron?

        The reason the curriculum pushes math is, in principle, because it is such a needed tool in many real life occupations today, such as computer programming, engineering, physics, etc.

        Yet, the way it is implemented keeps it disconnected from real applications in a formulaic confusion of rot memory data and useless required demonstrations. If it were hands on, deductive, exploratory and project based (e.g. build a bridge that supports X weight, or a robotic device for a given purpose) kids of any age and skill would feel at ease with at least the rudiments and practical use of algebra.
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          Nov 2 2011: Yes, problem-based learning! I had to discover this myself as a young student because it was not talked about or existed in my country during the early 80s.

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