Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
Defining Concept Maps
When was the last time you were overwhelmed by new information? Maybe you were taking classes and a teacher presented new concepts in a challenging way, or maybe you attended a meeting and became confused and overwhelmed with information. A tool that would have helped you increase understanding is a concept map.
Concept maps are great organizational tools that help you understand new ideas. Used as a graphic organizer, the concept map puts concepts into categories and visual spaces that make them more easily identifiable and definable. Because using concept maps requires students to group and extend ideas, these tools encourage valuable questioning techniques. For example, a student studying insects may ask what type it is, what it looks like, and where it lives.
Why Use Concept Maps?
Why use concept maps? For starters, they're great tools to help all students, regardless of ability level, to organize information. The way a concept map is designed allows for the clear flow of information. No need to worry about facts getting buried in notes. They also help students see the connections between ideas, like the different places insects can live. They also naturally separate the main idea (insect homes) from details (such as trees or nests). Lastly, concept maps are a simple tool that can be adapted to almost any topic.
Concept Maps and Differentiation
Teachers can use concept maps to differentiate instruction in their classroom. When they use differentiation techniques, teachers modify teaching and content to meet all students' needs. Differentiation can be made in the content taught, process of learning, or the product a teacher expects. Concept maps differentiate the process of learning by helping all students organize content in ways that work best for them as learners. Teachers can further differentiate by using concept maps before and during learning.
Before learning, teachers can have students use concept maps to prepare for new learning by setting background knowledge. This helps them organize their current understanding of a topic, like kinds of insects, and sets the stage for future learning.
During learning, students can use concept maps to record their thinking in ways that make sense to them. Some students will draw pictures, others write words in list form. Students will also record content vocabulary words, like 'life cycle' or 'chrysalis.' Teachers may modify the number or type of words required, like 'bug' or 'insect.' Finally, students can organize concepts in relation to one another. They'll form offshoots for 'types of insects' naming specific kinds, then another offshoot that describes them.
Using a Concept Map
In addition to differentiating the use of concept maps before or during learning, teachers can also use them with any size group: whole, small, or individual. Teachers will need to scaffold learners depending on abilities when using concept maps. Some may need much guidance, while others are able to design their own easily.
An easy way to help students learn to build a concept map is:
- Show students a blank concept map.
- Introduce concepts to students in specific sequences and groupings.
- Use lines, arrows, or other offshoot marks to show how subcategories are added and connected.
- Use the completed concept map to reinforce learning.
First, show a blank concept map and explain what each section and design means. For example, your circles may be used for main ideas and squares for supporting details.
Next, introduce concepts to students in specific sequences and groupings. This allows them to see the flow of building a concept map. You may build your map piece by piece each day; a section on insect food one day, homes the next. Or, you may introduce each overarching topic (such as food or homes) at the beginning and then circle back as content is taught.
As you fill out the concept map, use lines, arrows, or other offshoot marks to show how subcategories are added and connected. Under the body parts heading, there may be three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Then, each of these gets another offshoot; for head, eyes, mouth, antennae. Make sure to limit how much information is used; too much information may crowd the map and overwhelm students.
Finally, use the completed concept map to reinforce learning; for example, to summarize learned information, apply to future projects or learning, or share with others. Students can learn from seeing how others organize their thinking.
Teachers use differentiation techniques to make sure they're reaching all learners, no matter what level they're on. One graphic organizer they can use to help all students learn is a concept map. This tool helps organize and teach content before and during learning. Concept maps are easily modified for students of all levels, help them visualize and separate main ideas from supporting details, and build in content vocabulary. Using content maps with students may need some scaffolding, but eventually all students will be able to use them to learn.
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