jill's room

...a place to explore the use of technology in education...

09 October 2005

Concept maps
What are they?
Classroom integration

Concept maps are visual organizers of ideas, thought patterns, notes, and/or relationships. The process of concept mapping is used to either generate the brainstorming process, or to track it through a visual representation.
One of the biggest advantages of using concept mapping – or mind mapping or web mapping – is that the end result is, indeed, a map. Maps by definition provide direction and information as to the relative location of important landmarks. Other benefits include the intrinsic organization that occurs within the map itself as well as the concise descriptors used to identify pertinent details. Whether it is a flow chart or a web of interconnected elements, the concept map forces organization through the process of information distillation and through the connections used to record the information.
Another nice part of concept mapping is that you can add in actual pictures to represent items, so the visual organizer is not just in layout flow, but also using imagery. Further, colour-coding is another layer of organization that can be added to enhance the relationships being displayed, such as having all parallel elements coloured blue with all sub-sections coloured yellow.
In order to discuss the disadvantages of concept mapping, it seems important to comment on the difference between just mapping out ideas etc. and mapping them out using a computer. In the former, the disadvantages would mainly lie in whether or not the person using the process was a visual learner. If they were not, it may be better to list such ideas out, rather than scatter them and connect via links. In the latter, however, the most striking disadvantage would be the role that ability in using the technology would play. If the same map could be produced just as fast or faster by pen and paper, then there would be no real benefit to doing it with a computer. To avoid such a situation, proper training in using the software should be provided so that the end result is desirable for both the creator and the user of the map.
Integration of the technology into the classroom for use by the students at all ages would require ample training and practice using the selected software. That being said, there are a few different ways that technology could be incorporated into the class. First, as a teacher, concept mapping could be used to organize lesson plans and the detailed subject matter to be covered. The teacher could use computer mapping software to illustrated key ideas or processes to be used in his or her notes, or the teacher could have their computer screen projected so that the students could watch the way the teacher connects ideas in a class discussion while it is occurring.
Second, students at each age level could be asked to use concept maps in their own work. For example, Division 1 students could use Kidspiration to create picture stories or to help the students learn how to count through repeated adding of images. (ICT CONNECTION C.6.1.2. use technology to organize and display data in a problem-solving contex ). Junior High students could be asked in Language Arts to use Inspiration software to make a mini thesaurus on a few select vocabulary words or to show the relationship of characters in a novel being read. Another alternative could be to challenge the students to download Inspiration software and then to use it to describe how it is that they were able to access the technology (ICT CONNECTION F.6.3.5. describe the steps involved in loading software).
Senior High Science students could use the same software to classify organisms in studying evolutionary relationships. Or perhaps they could use the program to diagram different body systems and their relationships as well as the feedback mechanisms present within each system (ICT CONNECTION C.6.4.2. investigate and solve problems of organization and manipulation of information).
Other Senior High Science integration ideas include using concept mapping to teach students how to effectively organize their notes and how to retrieve key points from the texts that they are reading. Another idea is to use it when designing an experiment. For example, asking a series of ordered questions that can eliminate potential answers when trying to identify unknown substances (e.g. yes and no diagrams … such as, if yes, go to a, if no, go to b…).
In Career and Life Management class, students could use concept mapping to compare different potential career paths, visualizing the different lifestyle choices could make what they are doing more real to them. In the end, it is imperative that no matter the purpose, concept mapping will be most advantageous when the tools being used are familiar and easy to work with. And it is important to remember that the visual organizers will help some learners more than others, but the process itself should be beneficial to all.


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