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The Californian

Infinity Learning Maps chart course for the future

Joe Truskot , The Salinas Californian Published 9:18 a.m. PT June 30, 2017 | Updated 6:39 p.m. PT July 2, 2017

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(Photo: Joe Truskot/The Salinas Californian)

Arianna knows she likes to write and Rodrigo knows he's very shy. They would eventually share this information because of a special self-awareness exercise they were about to complete.

They sat together in a classroom at Rancho Cielo. It was Tuesday morning and the sun poured in from a high window. It mingled with students moving about and creating the normal pre-class buzz. Then silence.

Two instructors provided guidelines for the day's lesson.

A dozen students - all teenagers - joined Arianna and Rodrigo in the exercise. They listened carefully partly because they wanted to know what to do next and partly because the instructors' accent was different from their own.

The students were getting ready to create personal Infinity Learning Maps. The instructors were from New Zealand and were the originators of this student-driven tool which has been proven effective in getting children - especially those at risk - to chart a more positive future.

Dr. Brian Annan created the exercise when he was on the faculty of the University of Aukland and introduced the morning activity.  "We're here because we're interested in your learning and how you go about learning and getting your diplomas," Annan said, "and thinking about life after high school and college - about learning further into the future. Learning can actually help you live a good life."

Annan and his colleague Mary Wootton came to Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in April where they introduced the Infinity Learning Map to a group of students. Their initial visit, the first time they presented the session in the United States, was an eye-opening experience for the students and welcomed by the faculty, administrators and funders.

What came out of the April visit, Annan told the class was a surprise. They were startled by the number of students who said that the most important thing in life was to make a quick buck. 

Mary Wootton and Brian Annan listen to students talk about their Infinity Learning Maps (Photo: Joe Truskot/The Salinas Californian)

"What was interesting to us was," Annan said as the students listened attentively, "we haven't found many people who get a quick buck in life. Learning how to do stuff and learning how to work effectively is way more important than getting a quick buck."

The class watched .a short video on the April visit and received their morning task. "Draw a map of a learning situation you are finding tricky, challenging or hard."

Annan and Wootton provided a detailed rundown on how the map works. Students are asked to draw a map which places themselves at the center. From that, they are to sketch people, tools, places and interactions - all of which affect achieving their goal. Examples were shown in the video and Annan worked out one situation on the white board.

Then Wootton walked around the classroom and placed, in front of each student, a large, blank sheet of paper.

The noise of focussed activity took over the classroom. Colored markers were shared. Pencils were put to paper. Soft chatter highlighted the words and figures, arrows and dotted lines as they took shape and connected the students' thoughts.

The resulting exploration instigated by the Infinity Learning Map goes beyond any scholarly pursuit or vocational skill. It ultimately involves a personal realization that each student has an ability to determine the quality of his or her own education and a responsibility to use that determination to make better life decisions.

Family and friends figure into the learning process as much as any teacher, Annan insisted. Learning in the classroom and in life afterward is often done in groups, certainly as much as it is through individual pursuit.

One additional factor the exercise brings out in students is the importance of one's inner soul, of spirit. The instructors discussed "learning from the soul" which helps students clarify their developing values and self-identity.  You aren't doing this exercise for Brian or me," Wootton said. "Everything you write on this piece of paper is right. It's what's coming out of your head."

Students were encouraged to discuss their maps with others in the room.

Structure and discipline are key components of learning so the participants discussed topics such as time management and how to improve it. Distractions? Cell phones. Television. People. Aids? Alarm clocks. Schedules.


Further instructions on deciding on change were reviewed. Draw your map. Share your map. Talk about your map. Decide on your change. Decide what you will do differently. Decide what support you will need. Complete your student led database. Make a video clip (2 minutes or less).

The students enthusiastically dove into the exercise, drew out their experiences, resources and loves. They had few problems sharing their challenges with their supportive classmates and visibly appreciated the counseling Wootton and Annan provided.


How the visit came about

The project received support from the San Francisco-based Harry Singer Foundation which, among other objectives, is committed to helping young people make better decisions. The Foundation has offices in Carmel and in New Zealand.

Annan and Wootten have had particular success with at-risk students and with the Maori community in their home country. That success drew the attention of the Foundation. A proposed visit to Salinas was suggested and agreed to. The trial effort for Salinas was arranged through Chris Devers, principal of the Alternative Education Program at the Monterey County Office of Education. The visit was funded by the Foundation.

Sharon Law Tucker, program manager at the Harry Singer Foundation who was also present in the classroom on Tuesday, is enthusiastic about the concept and sees the Infinity Learning Map as a program that produced positive results in New Zealand and should do the same here. She's confident now that the impact drawing the maps has on children could become a model for the country.

The Infinity Learning map exercise has also been conducted at the Monterey County Office of Education's Silver Star Academy and at Peacock Acres.

The map's effect

On his map, Rodrigo drew thick, bold lines in pencil connecting him to his computer, to his grandpa and grandma, and to his electric guitar. The lines to YouTube and the Internet were strong but not as thick. Thinner lines went to Vans (a skateboarding shoes and apparel shop) and to BMTH "Don't Let Me Drown" (a rock band named Bring Me The Horizon and its hit song).

Arianna chatted enthusiastically when explaining her map.  "Instead of avoiding problems or things that I'm not good at," she said. "I'm going to try and do them. So I can take those risks and do those types of things."

Arianna drew her first map in April. On this morning she was adding to it.

"There's a lot of things different now. Like before I guess family was the main focus. But over time, I've figured out that they are a big part of my life and so I'm starting to open up more. I've got a job and I'm learning from a different place now." She's a shelf stocker at a CVS Pharmacy.

Mysterious slanted lines and letters were sketched in one corner of her map which she explained. "That's my music. 21 Pilots actually is a really big part of my life. I've liked them for a couple of years now. Their music is like really nice and it helps me focus."

Arianna's bright outlook and budding talent were noticed in April by Sharon Law Tucker who arranged for the teenager to attend a writer's workshop and another's in the works.

In summing up their April visit, Brian Annan reported the following trends: shy went to confident, avoidance to risk taking, time on your hands to value some time to learn, and one-on-one with the teacher to lateral learning with peers.

Brian Annan and Mary Wootton will return in the fall to check on progress and the pupils will look at themselves with new insight.

For additional information on Infinity Learning Maps, visit


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