May 8, 2014 By Cindy Kern
Concept maps are metacognitive tools that can offer a teacher, as well as a student, insight into how a student identifies relationships among concepts.
A teacher can formatively assess a student’s prior knowledge and misconceptions before a unit of instruction has started by having students create a concept map related to the unit topic. I call this activity “Gray Matter” because I want the students to do a brain dump about the topic on to a piece of paper in the form of a concept map. I provide the concepts that will be central to unit and then I let them go. A key to the success of this strategy is a feeling of safety that is created when I explain to students, “That is ok to not know the content now, but it is not ok two weeks for from now.” Further, I explain to my students that when they make their understanding explicit to me I can plan better and when they make explicit their understanding to themselves they can see what they know and what they still need to learn.
Throughout the instructional unit, teachers can assess the acquisition and accommodation of new understanding as the concept maps are modified over time.
This instruction strategy is call recursive concept mapping. I ask my student to concept map in class in small and whole groups. This is usually done on large sheets of bulletin board paper or on whiteboards. The social construction of a concept map usually follows a lab or activity that was designed to address specific relationships among concepts. The students are asked revise their concept map as their understanding changes. I assign little to no homework aside from lab reports, creating and analyzing analogy (future blog topic), and concept mapping. The homework expectation for my students is working on their concept map for 15-20 minutes a night. They are welcome to add relationships, reorganize, write questions they have about relationships, and talk to friends about the concept map they are building. Over the course of a unit students will turn multiple versions of their concept map. Recursive concept mapping allows the student the opportunity to evaluate and restructure their evolving understanding of a topic while my analysis of the concept maps is used to customize instruction to the needs of the students, which results in a more meaningful learning experience.
I like to think of a concept map as a conceptual workbench where students can, not only create a model of their thinking, but also manipulate their thinking through revision.
Additionally, concept mapping is a strategy that teaches student to think about the relationships that exists in our world. Students who are trained to be metacognitive and are trained to identify and describe relationships among ideas are well on their way to becoming both self-regulated in their learning as well as life-long learners.
Click the image below to view it larger:
Recommended Free Concept Mapping Application: http://cmap.ihmc.us/
Recommended NSTA The Science Teacher Article: Mapping for Conceptual Change: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/files/tst0809_32.pdf