Examples of Concept Mapping in a School Setting: A Look at Practical Uses

Examples of Concept Mapping in a School Setting: A Look at Practical Uses

Cristine G. Goldberg (University of West Georgia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5816-5.ch003


Through discussions with colleagues at several different institutions and teachers from all levels in my home state, it became apparent that classroom teachers have little or no exposure to good concept mapping practices. Background information about why concept mapping should be a primary tool in everyone's “toolbox” for learning and performance success is not common knowledge. Secondly, practicing teachers need concrete ideas for using concept mapping by and with students. After a couple of years of conversations at conferences and informally surveying my own undergraduate and graduate students, I decided to make an attempt to fill in this void. In this chapter I have presented relevant information about where, when, and how to use concept mapping as well as critical “how-to” tips for implementation by interested parties.
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Most schools and colleges of education do not expose pre-candidates to the use of concept mapping with students to any measurable extent. This means that teachers arrive in the classroom with virtually no training in the best practices of concept mapping. Without formal training in the process and without theoretical information as to how and why mapping can work well for a wide variety of students, an educator is not likely to instinctively know how helpful concept mapping with students can be. Concept mapping is also called idea mapping, mental mapping or mind mapping. According to Chan (2009), a concept map is a hierarchical form of structure diagram that illustrates conceptual knowledge and relationships within a specific topic from general to specific concepts. Another way to put it could be this: “Concept mapping is a method for representing knowledge graphically” (Hilbert & Renkl, 2008, p. 53).

My utilization of concept maps throughout many years adheres to principles developed and changed over time by Buzan (1996), Mukerjea (2004) and Nast (2006 and personal communications 2006, 2007, 2010), as well as North (personal communications 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2010). A synthesis of the meaning of concept mapping, to me, is a visualization of some type of knowledge that allows for relationships to be readily seen; new ideas added or changed and also may be used as an effective planning and/or presentation tool for many tasks. The technique is powerful for brainstorming, representing complex structures or ideas, helping others to understand those complex structures and ideas, as well as a quick assessment of knowledge of subject matter and promoting group understanding, learning and collaboration.

As a faculty member who regularly teaches a technology integration course to pre-teacher candidates in a university’s college of education, I often informally survey students with open-ended questions about strategies learned and applied in their student teaching opportunities. Four terms of this informal survey approach and anecdotal notation during face-to-face conversations and online class meetings have provided me the information that concept mapping is either a big void in the curriculum or dismissed as a useful technique by their instructors. The informal results and discussions with colleagues at several other institutions have all led me to two conclusions 1.) Graduates leave our institutions with little or no knowledge of the large role that concept mapping can play in the development of learning in a classroom; 2.) Students in the classrooms of our graduates are being denied more successful learning outcomes and the opportunities to be more productive and engaged.

I believe that professionals who are looking to improve student understanding of content, context and connections will better comprehend the possibilities for classroom use through the presentation of concrete examples and various uses in this chapter. Pre-service teachers are generally exposed to theories or strategies of learning for implementation into the classroom setting during their undergraduate courses. Concept mapping as a strategy is an exception to the previous statement. Even when there has been some exposure to the idea of concept mapping, precious little information has been passed along about how and why visual emphasis helps the brain with learning, how a concept map is a complete visual prompt that allows users to make connections quickly and, just as importantly, what is missing from the scene are examples of how seasoned practitioners have utilized concept maps in specific content areas and other learning situations.

This is a compilation of many years of my own practice as a concept mapper and mentor of others who are interested in concept mapping. The stories and examples shared in this book chapter are not a case study in the traditional sense, these are summaries that are organized to illustrate various aspects of concept mapping aspects of concept mapping that are important to someone who may want to learn more about it. Further, it will help those individuals no matter what age or level in the educational field, apply and implement this tool or strategy in their own setting. A brief overview of each of the ten sections follows.

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