Concept maps are a way for students to illustrate the structure of their knowledge. They are useful both as tools of learning and as assessments, and especially as formative assessments.
Concept maps consist of nodes, which are boxes or ovals containing terms, called concepts. Ideally, concepts should be single words or small groups of words; nodes should not contain full sentences. Also, specific examples are not concepts, so should not be in boxes or ovals. Examples can still be included on the map (without boxes), especially as they might add meaning for the student (see Example 1).
Nodes are connected with labeled arrows. The connecting arrows illustrate a relationship between two nodes. The label (along the line) tells exactly how the nodes are related. Arrows are used for the lines to show either the causal or hierarchical nature of the relationship. In other words, the arrows indicate how to order the concepts so that the label will make sense. Two nodes and their connecting arrow define a proposition. Nodes in very different parts of the concept map that are related can be crosslinked (see Example 2).
Some concept maps are hierarchical, whereas others are networks of concepts. The majority of the concept maps in this module are the latter.
This concept map from the Human's Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources module is used to organize some topics covered in Unit 1. In red, some examples of student notes are included. These are not concepts and so are not enclosed in boxes. However, they can be part of the map as they may help the student understand the topic.
Rocks and igneous are two concepts, or nodes. The arrows connect related nodes (e.g. rocks and igneous are related, but mineral and metamorphic are not---even though a more advanced student could connect them with the appropriate label), and the arrow's direction tells the reader in which order to read the proposition. The proposition regarding rocks and igneous is thus read as "rocks can be igneous." More than one arrow can be used to link the nodes. For example, the two arrows between rocks and minerals are read as two propositions: "minerals combine to make rocks" and "rocks are usually made of minerals."
The second concept map to the right illustrates some key points from the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The nodes cluster around Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but crosslinks (red, double arrows) link nodes between the two clusters. The line labels indicate the mostly hierarchical nature of the concepts, and each proposition becomes a stand-alone sentence that makes sense.
Ways to use concept maps
Concept maps are given in this module as ways to present material, ways to practice learning (e.g., in activities), and as ways to assess student learning. Instructors are encouraged to add or modify concept map activities. Here are some ways that concept maps can be used:
- Give students concept maps to fill out. These can be missing all the concepts, all the link labels, or just some of the concepts and/or link labels. You can provide the concepts/link labels as a predetermined list or have students come up with them.
- Give students a question they should answer using a concept map.
- Have students list the concepts before making a concept map from scratch. If the concepts are linked hierarchically, then have students try to rank concepts as being more general or more specific.
- Write concepts on Post-It Notes, and have students organize these in concept maps. By giving student groups a whiteboard or large piece of paper, students can move the Post-Its around and change the labels until they develop their final map. For an even more tactile experience, have each student "be" a concept, and have them connect with others using long pieces of string.
- Have students write or speak the information presented in a concept map.
- You can have students create a concept map based on something written or spoken.
Scoring concept maps
There are two relatively easy ways to score concept maps. The first is to score each proposition and total the points (Ruiz-Primo et al., 1996). Using this method, each proposition can earn three points, assuming that:
+1 The connected nodes are really related.
+1 The connecting line is labeled correctly.
+1 The line is an arrow that correctly shows the hierarchical or causal link between the two nodes.
The second technique works for hierarchical maps (Novak and Gowin, 1984):
+1 for each meaningful, valid proposition.
+5 for each valid level of the hierarchy.
+10 for each valid and significant crosslink.
+2 for each valid crosslink that is not significant.
+1 for specific examples given (these are not concepts, so are not in boxes).
Concept map uses and computing tools
Novak, Joseph D., and Gowin, D. Bob. 1984. Learning How to Learn. Cambridge University Press.CMap Tools is a freely downloadable computer program that operates on both PC and Macintosh computers. Created by the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. The program can be found at http://cmap.ihmc.us/.
Novak, Joseph D., and Cañas, Alberto J. 2008. The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them. Technical Report IHMV CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008. Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Available at http://cmap.ihmc.us/Publications/ResearchPapers/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.pdf.
Concept maps as assessment tools
Englebrecht, Amy C., Mintzer, Joel J., Brown, Lewis M., Kelso, Paul R. 2005. Probing Understanding in Physical Geology Using Concept Maps and Clinical Interviews. Journal of Geoscience Education 53, no. 3: 263--70.
McConnell, David A., Steer, David N., and Owens, Kathie D. 2003. Assessment and Active Learning Strategies for Introductory Geology Courses. Journal of Geoscience Education 51, no. 2: 205--16.
Ruiz-Primo, Maria Araceli, and Shavelson, Richard J. 1996. Problems and Issues in the Use of Concept Maps in Science Assessment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 33, no. 6: 569--600.