Concept Mapping in Math

Concept mapping (CM) in math has a lot of potential for students as a way to organize knowledge. Some teachers have used CMs for a math idea specifically to focus on vocabulary (e.g. words in story problems for addition). And some have tried to use them to help students unpack story problems. What are the possibilities of CM in math? 

     Like other content areas, CM can help build conceptual understanding in math. The concept maps layer the concepts, relationships, and is vocabulary driven just like any other content area. So it begs the question – How do we use concept maps effectively in math?  I read some research and there seems to be three main ways they are used:

1. CM used as an assessment tool to track student understanding of concepts over time. Students would do one map, learn more, do another map, and over time the study showed students deepening their understanding. The limitation in this was the degree of instruction needed to ensure students knew how to use CMs well so that their understanding was shared accurately.

2. CM have had promising effects when used as an instructional tool. Teachers use them over the course of a unit of study to have a central place for vocabulary and to show relationships. They call these knowledge models (right) that students refer back to again and again.

3. CM have been used in more of a template kind of way. Rather than having students or teachers start with a blank sheet there are circles and links predrawn that are then filled in as they learn or read a problem. The study used “what I know” “what I question”. I think there is potential in a template with “I notice” and “I wonder” and the “Unknown”. The templates alleviated the need for students to be good at concept mapping.

It seems that CM can “provide an entry into reflecting on these connections” in math just as we do when using CMs in literacy and content area reading. I think focusing on using CMs as an instructional tool and as a way for students to manage learning (as above in #2 and #3) could increase student access to mathematical content and the associated vocabulary.

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