2 Interpreting a concept map

A concept map will tell you what your students understand by:

  • the words used to link pairs of concepts
  • the number of links made (any concepts that are not well connected or left out are not well understood)
  • the complexity and sophistication of the map.

Activity 2: Interpreting concept maps

Resource 3 shows another example of the water concept map that you developed in Activity 1. Compare this concept maps with the one given in Resource 2. Answer the following questions:

  • Which map do you think shows the most advanced understanding? What are your reasons?
  • Which map shows the lowest level of understanding and why?
  • What misconceptions are revealed by each map?

One misunderstanding revealed by the concept map in Resource 3 is that molecules are surrounded by water. This suggests that the student believes water is not made from molecules, but they are part of it. The concept of ‘electron’ only has one link, which indicates it is not a well understood concept. The use of simple link words and phrases also indicates a lack of confidence or unsophisticated understanding.

Pause for thought

  • What implications does this have for you as the teacher in terms of teaching and learning?
  • How can you support and help students who have some misunderstandings or ideas that are only half-formed?

Once your students are able to create concept maps, you will be able to use them to assess their understanding and progress. The first step is teaching your students how to create a concept map. The following case study shows how one teacher used concept mapping in her teaching.

Case Study 1: Mrs Mohanty uses concept mapping

Mrs Mohanty was going to be teaching water to her Class VII. She explains how she used concept mapping to find out what her students knew about water before she started teaching about the water cycle.

I wanted to find out what my students already knew about water. I picked out key words from the chapter in the textbook beforehand. In the classroom I put a glass of dirty water and a glass of clean water on the desk so that everyone could see. I asked the students to tell me what came into their heads when they thought about water and looked at the dirty and clean water. I put the word ‘water’ in a circle in the middle of the blackboard. As they gave me their ideas, I wrote them around the word ‘water’. When there were no more ideas, I underlined the ten key words that are in the topic. I then got the students to work in pairs and start linking pairs of words. I gave them the example of:

 ICE > melts and becomes > WATER.

I then checked to see if they had understood by giving them two more words, ‘WATER’ and ‘STEAM’.

Next I told them they had 15 minutes to work in pairs to come up with linking words and that they could make more links if they wanted. This was very interesting. Students linked the two words in many ways, for example:

 WATER > turns into > STEAM

 STEAM > is different to > WATER

When I was sure they understood, I told them to work with a classmate to make as many links between pairs of words as they could. I then showed them how words could be linked as a map and they worked in pairs to make their own maps.

The concept maps gave me a lot of information about what the students knew already. Most had a good understanding of the states of water, but few had knowledge of pollution or how it happens. So I decided to focus on this in the next lesson.

Pause for thought

Concept mapping can be hard to do at first and students need to be taught how to do it. How did Mrs Mohanty help her students understand concept mapping?

‘Planning lessons’ in Resource 4 at the end of this unit, explains some key principles of planning that might help you make your planning more focused.

1 Developing concept maps

3 Teaching concept mapping