Underestimated Doodles

I’ve always been a very visual learner.

And when you’ve always done things a certain way, you tend to take it for granted. During my university years, surrounded by hundreds of computer science peers, I was often surprised when I had to defend my elaborate doodles, drawings and lists.

I noticed back then, (and I’m talking 10+ years ago mind you) that there seemed to be some kind of rejection against “writing things down”. That having to write something down somehow reflected your inability to grasp a concept. Again, just to be clear, I’m talking about a computer science program where being smart and doing nerdy things are common if not expected qualities. As you can imagine, I was quite perplexed when I found that I was one of just a handful of students who thought doodles were cool.

When I meet a good student, I always observe a singular undeniable trait:
A full acceptance of how they learn and total rejection of what anyone thinks of it.

I like to think of myself as a quirk-collector and it especially applies to students and their learning quirks. I love observing the vastly unique ways people absorb information because it makes me think “Hmm, what if that applies to me too?”

So getting back to doodles, here’s an example of one of my favourite things in the universe:

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Mind Maps or Spider Diagrams

The picture above is not a mind map from my particular mind, but it does vibe with me very well!

“Are you an artist or a programmer?” was a question I often got asked when someone was leaning over my shoulder, peeking at how intent I was on making my doodles and scribbles come to life. What I noticed very quickly was the more I enjoyed the subject, the scribblier I got.

I find mind maps so powerful because they can do the following:

  • Organize and compartmentalize your main branches of thought
  • Focus on the minute details in a topic branch
  • Create stories and possibly personify information into metaphors
  • Solidify ideas because you’re dinging between your left and right hemispheres when creating them (Technical vs. Creative)
  • Are simply god damn fun and hilarious to look at and map out

These scribble fests work miracles for me and I’ve seen them work wonders for other students (all age groups) who try them but I also find a trend in rejecting note-taking or diagram making, to an epidemic level.

As a child, I was the happiest little nugget in the world with a blank paper and markers. I think a lot of adults my age would agree, and many kiddos running around would also be nodding in unison. However, when the matter of learning comes into play, fun tends to take a hike and my question is: Why?

Why can’t learning be colourful and chaotic and funny?
Why must it be scholarly and sensible and serious?
And why do we care?

Over the years, my once welcoming and colour abundant sketchbooks were replaced with notebooks and their tidy margins and lines. My doodles replaced with bullet points and numbers. My speech bubbles replaced with headings and dates. And my ability to learn practically disintegrated. Why?

The cool thing, is I remember the moment when it all came back. I was sitting in class daydreaming next to my best friend (no one pays attention in class) and she poked me in the shoulder and pointed to a hurriedly scribbled note in the margin and it said:
“What are you thinking about?”

For some odd reason, I replied by drawing a little head with a speech bubble coming out of it and wrote “Everything and nothing?” and then something clicked. I don’t know what it was but very soon after that, my notes started to change. Yes, I still had bullet points and headings and dates, obviously! But I had the occasional doodle. The occasional diagram and about a million little speech bubbles.

Do not underestimate the power of a doodle and what it can do for your learning. Regardless of your age, your professionalism, your method of learning, never underestimate the power of a moment of fun in your education. Fun is so good at making complex and boring things, memorable!

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Teaching kids about basic data types in Python.

I’m not an avid doodler as many of you may assume, but I often have colour, imagery and movement in my materials. I am not often bored, but I can recognize the mundaneness of rigid presentations and I absolutely abhor it! Incorporating stories is something I do whenever I get a chance and I LOVE creating interactive moments with my students. The coolest thing? Any material I create with the fundamental aim to get a chuckle out of my students becomes the most memorable part of the entire lesson. And the reason is simple: Funny feels good!ย 

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Amina Khalique | Teacher and Doodler

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