Concept Mapping Research Paper Starter

Concept Mapping

This article presents an overview of concept mapping, a pedagogical tool that is a useful method for constructing, organizing, and communicating knowledge. Concept maps are visual presentations that clarify and explicate ideas and are developed by organizing prior and new knowledge about a particular topic into a map. Concept maps have also been called webbing, semantic mapping, concept organizer, graphic organizer, mind map and cognitive map. They can be visually simple or quite complicated, depending upon the number of nodes and links that are involved in the visual presentation. While concept mapping has its origins in constructivism, this pedagogical tool can be included in teacher-centered classrooms, as well as the student-centered classrooms. They are also used as assessment tools to assess student understandings (or lack thereof). Concept maps have moved from the pencil-and-paper format, as electronic concept maps have been made available through free trial downloads.

Keywords Assimilation Theory; Critical Thinking; Cognitive Map; Concept Organizer; Deductive Reasoning; Formative Assessment; Electronic Concept Map; Graphic Organizer; Inductive Reasoning; Meaningful Learning; Mind Map; Semantic Map; Pedagogical Tool; Summative Assessment; Webbing

Teaching Methods: Concept Mapping


Concept mapping is a pedagogical tool that is a useful method for constructing, organizing and communicating knowledge. This method challenges the traditional methods of rote memorization and passive learning and effectively promotes learning for all types of learners. Students often have difficulty with note taking and making connections with the content (Long & Carlson, 2011). In fact, research states that rote memorization, simple note-taking and underlining strategies do not adequately involve students in the active pursuit of knowledge as concept maps do (DeSimone, Oka & Tischer, 1999). The term concept mapping has been called webbing, semantic mapping, concept organizer, graphic organizer, mind map, and cognitive map.

Concept maps are visual presentations that are ways to clarify and explicate ideas, by organizing knowledge about a particular topic so that relationships between various subtopics can be displayed visually (Morine-Dershimer, 2006). They are educational tools that help students see the structure of key concepts that are visually presented in two-dimensional structures (Wilen, Hutchinson, Bosse & Kindsvatter, 2004). Concept maps are mental models that students develop as they think about old and new knowledge and the interrelatedness between the two. Construction of concept maps includes actively organizing and analyzing data, correlating appropriate information and synthesizing ideas to create meaning (Kostovich, Paradisz, Wood & O'Brien, 2007). De Simone (2007) states that concept mapping requires the learner to assume an active role in learning by: extracting and attending to important ideas from the text; thinking about how these ideas are related; and organizing the information into an integrated structure of sequences and clusters. According to Craik (1943), the mind constructs small-scale models of reality and constructs explanations. These explanations are dynamic internal models and can be structured into visual models. Solend (2005) states that concept maps are content enhancers that are meant to organize and identify the big issues, activate prior knowledge, and link this prior knowledge to new concepts. Concept maps are used so that students can see the relationship between main points and supporting details. The maps may visually present comparisons, clarify relationships, develop inferences, and draw conclusions. They promote meaningful learning in many content areas, such as in language, math, science, nursing and education.

Concept mapping has its origins in constructivist learning, which stresses the importance of challenging students to actively participate in and accept personal responsibility for learning (Novak, 1998). Information is formed by learners, rather than being transmitted to the individual (Tezsi, Demirli, & Saper (2007). Researchers David Ausubel (1963) and Joseph Novak (1998) are prominent in the development of concept mapping. The theory of concept mapping developed out of Ausubel's assimilation theory, the theory that what is most important in learning is what the student already knows and how the new learning interfaces with or relates to previous knowledge. Novak and his Cornell University associates introduced concept mapping in 1972 (Wilen, Hutchinson, Bosse & Kindsvatter, 2004). Novak and Gowin (1984) proposed concept mapping as a way to promote meaningful learning.

The number and variety of maps are infinite (Duplass, 2006), with no two maps ever alike. Concept maps can be as visually simple or as complicated as needed to impart visual information. All concept maps have nodes (points or vertices) that represent concepts and links (lines and arcs) that represent either causal or temporal relationships between the nodes. Each element articulates various patterns of thought and is a tool for representing and understanding complex thoughts (Chaffee, 2006). Arslan (2006) suggests that there are actually three major elements to the concept mapping process. Students should:

• Write concept names inside ovals, rectangles, or other shapes that represent the concepts;

• Link lines or arrows to show the connections between two concepts; and then

• Link phrases (on specific linking lines) to describe the relations between concepts.

Salend (2005) suggests that there are several types of concept maps that are organized by the knowledge that is presented in the map. Variations of maps include central or hierarchical, directional, comparative and semantic maps. Other types of maps are spider maps and serial maps (All & Huycke, 2007), as well as anticipatory guides (Barton, Heidema, & Jordan, 2002).

Duplass (2006) states that there are a number of reasons concept mapping is an important tool in the classroom, in that it is:

• Appropriate to almost all grade levels and domains;

• Visually enhancing learning;

• Accommodating of different learning styles;

• Easy to teach from and use;

• Inclusive of both information knowledge and procedural knowledge; and

• Promoting the reconstruction of knowledge when students are involved in the making or completing of a concept map (Duplass, 2006, p. 222).

This pedagogical tool can be either teacher-centered or student-centered. In the teacher-centered environment, the concept map can be used as an instructional tool, incorporated into lectures, discussions, questioning techniques and case studies. Teachers who often use these graphic organizers to enhance their own modeling must choose organizers for presentation that correctly depict the concepts that they wish to present and these are developed by them before their use in class. The goal for the use of the concept map in a teacher-centered approach is "to progressively differentiate the information in the concept map while students capture the entire image in their mind's eye" (Duplass, 2006, p. 222). A common method in the teacher-centered approach to the presentation of concept maps is the Reveal Method, the distributing of a blank map that will be completed by the students as the teacher delivers a lecture. The blank map is a note-taking approach, as students fill in or add to the map that has been previously distributed to students.

Student-Constructed Maps

Research shows that student-constructed concept maps are more beneficial than those completed maps provided by the teacher. Novak, Gowin, and Johanssen (1983) state that students retain information longer and generate more specific thinking and reconstruction of knowledge when they actively engage in the building of the maps. They also find new meaning in the subject and new ways to relate what they already know to the content they are learning (Okebukola, 1992). As students analyze the concepts, they distinguish between critical and extraneous attributes. Both inductive and deductive reasoning is facilitated in the process of developing a concept map (All & Huycke, 2007). Students master more content as they are encouraged to answer questions and map representations in their heads before developing a concept map. There are certain steps that most students follow when they are developing a typical concept map. In the process of developing a typical concept map, the student:

• Notes the key words or concepts and phrases or ideas that are used during a lesson or from reading a text;

• Arranges the concept and main ideas in a hierarchy from the most general (abstract) to the more specific and concise;

• Draws circles or ellipses around the concepts;

• Connects the concepts (generally in circles) by means of lines or arrows, accompanied by linking words so that each branch of the map can be read from the top down;

• Provides examples (if possible) at the end of each branch; and,

• Cross-links hierarchies or branching of the map, where appropriate (Okebukola, 1992, p. 218).

Typically, students take several months of regular practice and must...

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