28 June 2008

Putting Paper in Its Place

No matter how tech savvy I get, I don't believe that paper and pencil will ever be replaced. There is something about the experience of writing with those tools---the way the paper looks, the feel of the graphite sliding over it, the smell of the cedar in the pencil. Although typing allows me to convey my ideas (once formed) more quickly, I almost always need that concrete experience of writing first as a way to just brainstorm ideas. Paper captures random thoughts better than other media. I have a little Levenger notebook like the one shown at the left. It's small enough to carry in hand or slip into a purse so that it's always available. I always have so many projects going that I like the idea of being able to jot down ideas and reminders as they come. I never know when I'm going to have time to think, much less organize those thoughts.

I really liked this article on The Paper Version of the Web when I saw it earlier in the week. Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr Places, and more all started out as sketches---simpler communications as people shared and refined ideas before building them. But, we rarely see this part of the development process. On the right there is a sketch for the proposed word processing program for the one laptop per child project. There are many more interesting photos of sketches posted with the article. It is the modern version of a cabinet of curiosity: relics and whimsy all mixed together.

Most of my original notes wind up in the trash because, really, who cares what they were? But perhaps there is something metacognitive I could do with them. Might they convey how to move a process along? Below are my stages as I prepare for my grading workshop a month from now. The first is just scrawls. These were my original notes, scribbled as I thought of things. This page was intended as no more than a place to capture ideas over a few days...a holding tank of sorts. Perhaps as my students worked on an assignment and I had a thought about the presentation, I would jot the information here. (If you're interested in getting a closer look, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.)

At the next stage, I'm a bit more serious. When I'm not in a hurry and am making a concerted effort to plan, my handwriting actually becomes legible. The next two pictures represent my attempt to take the random thoughts I'd had and make something useful. The little numbers to the left of some of the bullets represent the time I planned to allot and the circled numbers represent the final order of the agenda I chose. You'll see that there are some "Activity?" queries in the margins. This is meant to remind me that I want participants to be doing something with these ideas here---it shouldn't be me yapping at them. I have other notes in the margins. They are things I thought of later and wanted to include in the final version. You'll even see my notes about the graphs I shared yesterday. The only alterations to these pictures that I have made is to "paint" over two student names. As these were my notes, I included them as reminders to me. Now that I am sharing them with a wider audience, I need to protect my kids.

Finally, we have a further refinement of the first parts of the workshop. It contains more details for me regarding discussion questions to use. There are more pegs to hang ideas on. Even the elements on this page are likely to change in the final draft; however, once I get to this point in the process, I'm able to set the ideas aside and focus on other things. I know that if something happened and I didn't get to have one more iteration of revision, I would still be able to take this and make it work just fine.

There you have it. A bit of my own process for you. What are you using to organize your ideas?


teacherninja said...

LOVE my Circa Notebook. I use it with a Getting Things Done style and index cards. I basically can't think without paper. Great post!

The Science Goddess said...

I have used various types of organizational systems---but I keep coming back to paper. I like my Palm PDA for carrying other kinds of information: contacts, digital files, music, etc. It's more of a long-term reference for me, while my Circa notebook really does live in the present. It has all the things I'm doing and thinking about right now (and it's easy to archive pieces later).

Give me a sharp long-point pencil behind my ear and a piece of paper, and I'll move the world. (with apologies to Archimedes)

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Mind maps. One of my secret weapons for a 4.0 in grad school.

I read Tony Buzan's book Use Both Sides of Your Brain in 1975 and have been teaching the basic (forget the drawings and color) technique to students ever since.

I've long intended to write about their uses that I've enjoyed, so look for a blog post on the matter soon. :)

The Science Goddess said...

I will definitely be looking forward to that!