Visualizing is integral to reading for comprehension. To understand what they read, students must rely heavily on the “picture-making” mechanisms in the visual systems of the brain in order to extract meaning from the words on a printed page.
The association cortices in the brain are charged with the task of making sense of incoming information. Learners can only make sense of abstract information based on preexisting internal mental models.
Harvard University faculty member, Marc Hauser (2009) points to four human characteristics that distinguish our cognitive abilities from those of our primate cousins, who are only 1% genetically different from us.
1. Generative Computation: our ability to generate countless products from limited content (26 letters used to construct a limitless number of words, conversations, and concepts)
2. Promiscuous Combination of Ideas: taking disparate ideas from a wide range of domains of knowledge and creating new products, laws, and relationships
3. Mental Symbols: producing a complex communication system
4. Abstract Thought: the ability to reasonably imagine things beyond our immediate.
When we deploy non-linguistic models, maps, diagrams, simulations, and representations to assist with creative r abstract thinking, we enhance classroom success by taking advantage of some of the brain's longest-standing competencies.
We can safely assume that the law of gravity was well understood before Newton's formal theory was ever proposed or written down.