articles and the latest innovations in teaching and technology will be
listed here and updated monthly. This month's article is from the
USAFA Educator, Volume VII, Issue 1, Fall 1998. It was written by
a friend that has been recognized as an outstanding teacher by several
institutions. We hope that you will find his article on "concept
mapping" interesting and useful.
A Primer on Concept Maps
Dr. Robert Noyd, Department
of Biology, United States Air Force Academy
With all the emphasis on developing
higher-ordered thinking skills, it is easy to overlook the fact that before
students can think critically about content, they must first understand
its basic terminology, the concepts represented, and the relationships
between these concepts. Thus, learning subject matter content becomes a
mental building process, enabling students to actively construct a conceptual
framework to which new concepts are added, related, and refined. Concept
maps--diagrams that show students how content is structured--are effective
teaching and learning tools. This article presents one method of concept
mapping and several ways it can be used in the classroom.
Features of a Concept Map
Maps are constructed using circled
terms to represent concepts. A linking word or phrase is used to clarify
the specific relationship between two concepts. Lines connect concepts
vertically, and arrows connect concepts horizontally.
1. Organization is Hierarchical.
maps are built with the most general or inclusive concepts at the top with
more specific concepts placed under them (subsumed). This way, the map
is organized in the same way that humans organize and store knowledge.
This also gives students a place to begin map construction and assesses
their basic understanding of the concepts and their relationships to each
other. A group of vertically related concepts is called a map segment.
2. Concept Relationships. The
specific relationship between general and more specific concepts is shown
with words or phrases called linking words. Linking words are important
indicators in assessing whether a student comprehends the material. Linking
words may be general or may be more specific to the content area mapped.
Examples of general linking words include:
3. Horizontal Structure. Students
who understand how the knowledge from one area (map segment) is related
to other areas (map segments) make important connections across
map. This is called cross-linking. Cross-links, like linking words,
are similar descriptive words or phrases: however, cross-links show the
direction of meaning with an arrow.
||is based on
||takes place when
||can be converted to
Ways to Use Concept Maps
1. Lecture Presentation.
Build as you go, asking students to provide linking words and cross-links
during or at the end of lecture. As a summary, this approach creates a
better learning tool than written notes that parallel the text.
2. In-class Exercise. Give
students an incomplete map and have them fill in concepts or linking words.
3. Cooperative Learning/Group
Activity. Use as an in-class group activity. Have students list concepts
on index cards, collect, and trade cards. Each group builds a map with
the mix of cards they've received.
4. Text Reading. Have students
transform a section of the text into a concept map.
5. Reinforcement Assignment.
the students a list of terms and have them construct a concept map.
6. Assessment. Give the
students a list of terms and have them construct a concept map as an exam
question. Maps are often more revealing and less time-consuming than essays.
It is very difficult for students to bluff their way through a concept
Benefits of Using Concept Maps
* Shows the organizational
structure of content as a compact source of information.
Issues Relating to Concept Maps
* Offers a simple and easy-to-learn study and/or teaching technique.
* Promotes better retention and understanding of subject matter.
Concept details are easily reconstructed from a map, which reduces the
burden on memory and thus reduces memorization errors.
* Is a versatile teaching tool that can be used to present and reinforce
content or assess its understanding.
Use Maps Progressively.
Begin familiarizing students with this technique by showing them a completed
map and then progressively increase their involvement. Perhaps you
can have them complete an incomplete map or add linking words and cross-links
having them create a map from scratch.
Model Concept Mapping.
Show students how you would map the content in a meaningful way before
you assign them the same task. Throwing it at them will guarantee
frustration for most students.
Instructor Map vs. Student Map.
modeling of the mapping process is essential if students are to use this
technique; however, it is important for students to actively create their
own maps as a meaningful learning task. Often, the goal is not to simply
memorize the instructor's map, but to understand the important connections.
There's No Single Correct Map.
important to emphasize to students that there is not a single correct map
and that the process of creating a map involves learning and interacting
with the material. However, maps vary in their accuracy, degree of sophistication,
hierarchy, and completeness.
Amount of Information
on a Map. There is a limit to the amount of information a concept
map will show effectively.
Concept maps can quickly become too complicated if the number of
cross-links becomes excessive. If this occurs, create separate maps and
have a cross-link to the general concepts at the top.
Plot and Character Relationships.
once mapped the characters in a soap opera. It quickly became very complicated
and difficult to follow. The newspaper publishes soap opera plots; have
students try to map one. This type of lean-ting task also applies to historical
events. Family trees and organizational charts are types of concept maps.
Components of a System.
Whether it's a sandwich, a system of government, a curriculum, or a jet
engine, maps are useful tools to show how the pieces fit together.
I assess a concept map primarily
on the basis of its organization and linking words (about 75-80% of the
question's point value). I then award points based on the quantity and
quality of the cross-links.
* Map Organization. Is
the map organized from most general to more specific? Are all terms included
and placed in appropriate locations? (~ 35-40% of total points)
* Linking Words. Are the
linking words precise and accurate in showing the relationships between
concepts? (~ 40% of total points)
* Cross-links. How many
cross-links are shown? What degree of integration is demonstrated? (~ 25%
of total points)
Novak, Joseph D. and Gowin, D.B.. (1984). Learning how to learn.
Cambridge University Press. New York, N.Y.
Angelo, Thomas A. and Cross, K. P. (1993). "Classroom Assessment
Technique 16: Concept Maps" In Classroom Assessment Techniques, 2' edition.
(pp. 197-202). Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco, CA.