Concept Mapping in Education: Teachers' Guide

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Concept mapping is a learning strategy that involves visualizing relations between concepts and ideas using graphical representations. It is a form of graphic organizer that consists of various circles or boxes (called nodes) each of which contain a concept and are all interlinked through linking phrases. The role of these linking phrases is "to identify the relationship between adjacent concepts" (McClellan and Broggy, 2009).

As a learning tool, concept maps were first introduced by Novak and his colleagues in Cornell University in the 70s of last century. Concept maps are based on Asubel’s theory of meaningful learning which states that “learning is meaningful when the student comprehends the relationship of what is being learned to other knowledge”(KILIÇ and ÇAKMAK, 2013, p. 154). In other words, meaningful learning “results when a person consciously and explicitly ties new knowledge to relevant concepts they already possess” (Stoica, Moraru, and Miron, 2010, p. 568). Some key pillars of meaningful learning include prior knowledge, interaction, and collaboration all of which are supported by concept mapping. However, a detailed discussion of the literature and theoretical base of concept maps is beyond the scope of this short post. To learn more about concept maps, their underlying theory and their uses in education, we recommend the reference list at the bottom of this post.

According to the literature cited below, here is a brief overview of some of the benefits  and ways of using concepts with your students in class:

Benefits of using concept maps with students
  • Provide students with nonlinear visual ways to understand, produce, and represent knowledge.
  • Help develop higher-order thinking skills including analytical skills.
  • Facilitate the recall and processing of information.
  • Help students externalize their knowledge and show their understanding.
  • Make explicit structural forms of knowledge and relationships between concepts and therefore enhance students comprehension.
  • They attend to different learning styles.
  • They engage students in meaningful learning activities.
  • They are effective organizational tools students can use to organize their knowledge.
  • Visual representations of knowledge is proved to both stimulate and increase brain activity (Marzono, 1998, cited in Birbili, 2006).
  • Boost social interaction, communication and collaborative team work.
  • They can be used in different content areas and with students from different grades.
Uses of Concept maps

  • Highlight the similarities and/or differences between concepts.
  • Display the sub-components of a concept.
  • Showcase the methodical steps involved in the development of a concept, event…etc.
  • Brainstorm ideas on a particular topic.
  • Formatively assess students knowledge during the learning process.
  • Use concept maps in summative assessments at the end of a lesson or course unit.

 Here are some good concept mapping  tools we recommend to use in your class:

A good tool for creating visually attractive concept maps. No software download required and maps you create can be saved as an image. It also supports different sharing and collaborative features.

2- Popplet
Another good tool students can use to create and share concept maps. It offers various features including: recording notes in different formats with text, images and drawings; link notes to each other; export your final work as PDF or JPEG; supports several languages and many more.

3- MindMup
Lets you ‘create unlimited mind maps for free, and store them in the cloud. Your mind maps are available everywhere, instantly, from any device.’

4- Creately
Offers tons of pre-designed concept map templates, supports group work, integrated with third party tools including Chrome Store and Google Apps. It also has this handy resource to help you better understand and use concept maps.

5- Coggle
Another useful tool for creating collaborative concept maps. ‘Coggle is an online tool for creating and sharing mind maps. It works online in your browser: there's nothing to download or install.’

6- MindMeister
‘MindMeister is an online mind mapping tool that lets you capture, develop and share ideas visually…MindMeister lets you share your mind maps with as many friends or colleagues as you want and collaborate with them in real-time.’

7- Lucidchart
You can use Lucidchart to design concept maps, flowcharts and different types of diagrams. It also support collaborative features and works across several devices. It also offers this handy resource to help you learn more about concept maps and how to use them in your class.

8- Mindomo
Excellent for creating mind maps, concept maps, outlines and many more. Its 'Presenter' feature lets students turn their maps into slide-by-slide presentations. Maps can embed videos, audio clips, and links. It also lets students search web images directly from the map and add them with a single click.

9- Spiderscribe
‘SpiderScribe is an online mind mapping and brainstorming tool. It lets you organize your ideas by connecting notes, files, calendar events, etc. in free-form maps. You can collaborate and share those maps online.’

3- Concept maps as a tool for meaningful learning and teaching in chemistry education (research paper by Mustafa KILIÇ and  Murset ÇAKMAK).
5- Concept maps (Reading Rockets).
7- Concept maps: Are they good for assessment? (Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching)
Education Students in an Irish University (research paper by Joanne Broggy and George McClelland).
9- Concept maps, a must for the modern teaching-learning progress (research paper by Ionana Stoica, Silvia Morary and Cristina Miron)
10- Ten Good Online Tools for Creating Mind Maps (Free Technology for Teachers)