My starting point is a diagnosis I found in David Perkins’ book “Outsmarting IQ: The emergingscience of learnable intelligence”. Perkins reports some of the findings of mathematician-psychologist Allan Schoenfeld (p. 87):“One of the most important factors [in deficient mathematical problem solving is] poormental management:- Students did not pay attention to the winding path of their activities in solving aproblem.- They often did not think to use heuristics they knew and could have applied.- They often perseverated in an approach that was not yielding progress rather thantrying a new tack.- They often gave up without rummaging in their repertoire for another point of entry.- Amidst the trees, they lost sight of the forest.”One promising way of mastering these difficulties lies in combining two major approaches toproblem solving:- heuristics in the tradition of Polya, and- mapping techniques, like mind mapping (or concept mapping).
Excursus: Mind mapping.
(You may want to skip this if you are familiar with mind maps.)Mind mapping is a special form of note-taking.Here are some essential features:- You take a (preferably large) sheet of paper in landscape format.- You write the topic / the problem in the middle of the sheet and draw a frame aroundit.- You write the main aspects and main ideas around that central topic and link themthrough lines to the center.- You expand the ideas in these "main branches" into subbranches etc.- Wherever appropriate, you should use figures, colours, arrows to link branches etc.A thorough discussion of mind mapping can be found in “The Mind Map Book” by Tony andBarry Buzan. Later in the text we present a number of mind maps.
How can mind maps be used for solving mathproblems?
I will start with two principal uses:- Using mind maps to examine a given problem.- Using mind maps to organize problem solving tools.These two uses may even be combined, leading to the use of two mindmaps at a time:- a "problem map" for dealing with the problem itself and- a "tool map" (or several of them) containing problem solving tools - from general ones(e.g. the ones presented in Polya's "How to Solve It") to highly specialized ones (e.g.for dealing with Poisson processes).