Using Concept Maps in Teaching

Concept maps are a great way for students to organize thoughts, draw connections between topics, and understand what concepts are most central to the  topic at hand.  They also present an opportunity to get students actively engaged in their own learning during class.  Recently I had two opportunities to use concept maps in class settings and both times I was very pleased with the discussion and final product that we created as a group.

The first concept map above illustrates characteristics of good teaching, with repeated words emphasizing the traits that were most commonly appreciated.  To create this, I asked graduate students in TA Orientation to think of their favorite teacher from any point in their academic career and share who it was and why they chose them with a peer.  After thinking through their experiences and sharing stories, they were each given three notecards on which to write a word that described this teacher.  One-by-one, they came up to the front and taped the word to the board, meanwhile explaining why they had chosen that word and how it related to their experience with their favorite teacher.  As more people came up, themes began to emerge among the traits, and we discussed how they were connected.  The group of graduate students was from the Economics and Mathematics departments, so it was not surprising that the most popular choice of words described organized teachers since we tend to have analytical minds.  At the end of the day, the new TAs made another concept map as individuals to represent who they wanted to be as a TA, which they got to take with them as a reminder.


The next concept map I planned was on the first day of class in my undergraduate Labor Economics course.  In groups of 2-4 students, I asked them to think about major concepts, players, and issues in the economics of labor.  They each had notecards to take notes, and I observed excellent discussions among the groups that included students with diverse backgrounds and interests in economics.  After brainstorming, I asked groups to volunteer to come up to the board to share what they had come up with together.  Students shared a concept and why they thought it was important to the labor economy, and drew lines between the words to illustrate how they were connected.  In the end, I used the map they had created to confirm what we would be talking about throughout the rest of the semester.   In a class that can be bogged down by lecturing if you’re not careful, this was a nice way to introduce students to the various topics and to engage them in the course outline.  I took a picture of the board and shared it with the class through our online course management system so they can reference it as we navigate through the rest of the semester together.