All information, whether digital, written or other, enters our minds through our senses—The more vivid the sensory properties in a lesson, the more unforgettable. For example, activities like exploring nature, cooking or visiting a museum usually stimulate the senses. In NWK we place great emphasis on experiences with the Sensory Alphabet. We begin by using cameras, recorders, “lookers,” and other props to observe and collect each element, such as shapes or spaces, in the environment. Although we also use books, slides, videos and other sources of information, we begin as concretely as possible—with objects students can at least see, hear and touch—and sometimes can smell and taste as well! Many teachers know that a good sequence for teaching mathematics and other subjects is to move from concrete to representational to abstract. A real apple is more vivid and memorable than the picture of an apple, and the picture is more vivid than the word “apple.”
A colleague of mine, Francisco Blasco, has a rare talent for engaging the senses. I once asked him
Help your children come to their senses!to help a group of teachers create masks. Instead of teaching them a mask-making technique, he began by creating a pneumatic sculpture from black garbage bags that looked like a low, large tent, inflated by a small fan at one end, and with a short tunnel-like entrance at the other end. Teachers had to crawl on hands and knees to get inside the sculpture. Once inside they were asked just to sit in a circle, look and listen. Then Frank would make unexpected sensory changes: He turned the lights on and off. He turned the fan on and off. He ran a hand along the top of the sculpture and threw rice on top. He made odd sounds. Then the teachers were brought out of the sculpture and asked to reflect on their experiences: What did they like? What did they not like? What emotions did the experience engender? Frank then likened their experience to that of early peoples who did not know what was predictable or not in their world. Would the sun rise again? Why doesn’t it rain? Are we in danger? Frank then challenged the teachers to create a mask that reflected their experience. If they were frightened, perhaps they would make their mask large and scary to deal with an unknown foe. If they wanted to see or hear better, they could enhance the eyes or ears of the mask. And so on. The masks they created were not only unique, the highly sensory experience helped them connect to reasons for creating masks in the first place.