Concept maps are an effective way for students to organize ideas, link new learning to previous experiences, and make connections between various concepts.Not only are concept maps great for students, but they can be used by teachers as well.
I like to use concept maps myself when I am planning units, essays, assignments, or simply projects that need to be worked on. At first, I did not realize that I was using a concept map to organize my ideas—I simply saw it as a way to record all my brainstorming using pencil and paper, as I do not like using technology to organize lists and brainstorming, but that is just a personal preference. I like to see my concept map grow by adding on new ideas as they come to mind and then connect these new ideas to other parts of the map. I can easily see how this works in the classroom, as it is an effective way to activate prior knowledge and lay out any and all preconceptions that students have in order to increase the students’ understanding of the subject matter (Novak, 1996, p. 38). Novak (1996) made an excellent point that concept maps can be used for recall, synthesis, and evaluation if students are asked to add in additional concepts and relationships (p. 39). I like the idea of creating a concept map and then adding in new terms and relationships as each lesson is taught; at the end of the unit, students will have an all-encompassing concept map that relates the key concepts from the previous lessons. Likewise, teachers can add on to their own concept maps as the unit progresses to reflect on lessons, student understanding, successes, areas for improvement, and next steps.
Teachers can use concept maps to inform their teaching practice, which would be assessment for learning. Novak (1996) gives the example of using concept maps to help teachers determine students’ misconceptions and to aid in facilitating learning in hopes of changing conceptual understandings (p. 38). Teachers can have students work on a concept map at the beginning of a unit, collect the maps, and then look for any inconsistencies in student thinking, misconceptions, or gaps in knowledge/experience to address during the unit. Teachers can also use concept maps to facilitate group activities and discussions; for instance, students can work on a concept map individually and then work in small groups to merge their individual concept maps into one collaborative concept map. This type of activity would require robust dialogue, debate, evaluation, and interesting connections being developed between concepts (Novak, 1996, p. 40). Concept maps would be a great visual way for teachers to see the preconceptions students have and how they may change throughout the course of a unit. Not only would the concept map help students to record their ideas, but teachers would gain a better understanding of what topics they need to cover or re-teach.
Do you use concept maps in your teaching? Do you use them to inform your teaching practice?
Novak, J.D. (1996) Concept mapping: a tool for improving science teaching and learning. In: Treagust, D.F., R. Duit, and B.J. Fraser (Eds.) Improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics. pp. 32 – 43 London, Teachers College Press.