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Dear Posnack Community:

We hear this line all the time- “Pictures are worth a thousand words.” This idea implies that our brains are more receptive to visual representations. We remember more with pictures than only words. Is this true and why?

For my Friday letter this week, we will explore this question.

It turns out that humans are intensely visual creatures. Our eyes contain nearly 70% of our body’s sensory receptors and send millions of signals every second along the optic nerves to the visual processing centers of our brain. Sure you can learn kinesthetically (through motion) and process auditory information, but the truth is we take in more information visually than through any of our other senses. Visual information is what our brain must process the most.

Several studies demonstrate the powerful ability of our brain to recall information that is presented visually. In one study, investigators showed subjects photographs of classmates two months after graduation. Not surprisingly, the subjects were able to recognize 90 percent of those who had been in their class. But when subjects were tested 15 years later, amazingly the recognition rate was still close to 90%. When they were asked to recall their classmate’s names 15 years later, the accuracy rate was closer to 50%. Pictures are worth more than words.

The idea of being able to learn new information “visually” is something you may have observed by your own observations. At times, we often hear people complain about not being able to understand something new because of an inability to “picture” it. Similarly, when someone does comprehend something they often say, “I can see what you mean.” In either case, the emphasis is on our visual sense for learning.

In school, one of the critical components to comprehending math and science concepts is a person’s ability to use spatial-temporal reasoning. This type of reasoning focuses on a person’s ability to visualize spatial patterns and manipulate them mentally in a particular time ordered sequence of spatial transformations. In math and science a student needs to use spatial-temporal reasoning to transform difficult abstract concepts into visual images. The visual representation of the concept leads to a greater level of comprehension. This is why we often use diagrams, graphs and pictures to help students retain the information. Pictures allow our brains to use the one sense our brains seem to prefer over all else when engaged in the building blocks of learning.

If the window to comprehension runs through the visual pictures we organize within our mind, then what do our Posnack teachers do in their classrooms to take advantage of this process for learning? Our Lower School teachers present fraction lessons with full graphical representations. Our Singapore Math curriculum used throughout the lower school asks students to draw visual representations of word problems with bar models. In our Middle School science classes, our students create models representing different forms for atoms and molecules. In our High School social studies courses, teachers use graphic organizers to help students compare and contrast periods of history. At Posnack, our teachers understand the power of pictures and how visualization greatly increases comprehension.

We often hear that a person’s eyes are the window into a person’s soul. Now you know that our visual sense (or ability to create visual imagery within the mind) is also the window into where one builds the foundation for learning.

Shabbat shalom,

Richard Cuenca
Head of School

P.S. One can peer over the construction fences around the site of our new Paul and Maggie Fischer High School and Ram Gym to “picture” the vision for our school’s new future taking shape.