If you don’t use concept maps in your class, you might want to investigate this excellent method of helping students construct, connect, and organize information, concepts, ideas, etc. These graphical illustrations of concepts and how they are connected can help students study and prepare for tests, construct their own understanding of new terminology or concepts, and a host of other learning applications.
Regarding concept maps, Novak & Canas write:
Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on the line, referred to as linking words or linking phrases, specify the relationship between the two concepts. We define concept as a perceived regularity in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label. The label for most concepts is a word, although sometimes we use symbols such as + or %, and sometimes more than one word is used. Propositions are statements about some object or event in the universe, either naturally occurring or constructed. Propositions contain two or more concepts connected using linking words or phrases to form a meaningful statement. Sometimes these are called semantic units, or units of meaning (http://cmap.ihmc.us/Publications/ResearchPapers/TheoryCmaps/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.htm).
Why use concept mapping software? Students can easily draw a concept map on a piece of paper, but sometimes it gets messy or needs to be redone . . . they run out of space on the paper or they want to make a new connection to a concept, delete one, or change one. This is where concept mapping software can REALLY come in handy. In a second, a new connection can be made or deleted, a new concept can be added. Also, this software can rearrange the concept map into various hierarchical structures at the click of a button. They are versatile, useful, and can be visually appealing.
There are concept mapping packages out there, a very well-known one is Inspiration, which costs some money. However, I really like CMap tools. It’s free, open-source, very fast and easy to use, works on multiple platforms, and has some really cool features. You can download the software to install on your computer here: http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/free_client.php
(I also noticed that a download for the new OLPC (one laptop per child) XO is also included!!! WOW!!!)
The program is very easy to learn to use, so download it to your computer and try it out. One of the areas I would like to investigate is the server version, where multiple users can construct a concept map synchronously. Also, as I remember from researching this in times past, you can create discussion threads on concepts to discuss them further. The possibilities are pretty exciting.