Concept Mapping/Mind Mapping for Information Organization
There is no argument about the educational value of using concept maps (or mind maps – the terms will be used interchangeably here) as tools for critical thinking and for organizing information, and especially so for the visual learner.
For those unfamiliar with the idea of concept/mind mapping – this image explains the term and idea of a concept map through a concept map). To quote wikipedia, “A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, and decision making.”
The Inspiration site has this to say about the power of visual learning – “Learning to think. Learning to learn. These are the essential skills for student success in every curriculum area and academic pursuit. Research in both educational theory and cognitive psychology tells us that visual learning is among the very best methods for teaching students of all ages how to think and how to learn. “
One could say that a concept map is basically a type of graphic organizer. Take the very simple example of the ‘Star’ graphic organizer for vocabulary. It could quite simply be a map with the word in the middle, surrounded by cells/nodes which contain the definition, (grammatical) classification of the word, a synonym, an antonym, a picture describing the word, and a sentence which describes the use of the word in context.
Information organization is a key 21st century skill that today’s kids will benefit from developing early in life. (”21st century skill” admittedly sounds like a very cliched phrase, but there’s no getting away from the skills for the new age). Giving them such tools to organize information is therefore especially important when there is so much information that they need to deal with and make sense of.
Visit the Inspiration site for more ideas on how parents can help their kids use concept maps.
Fortunately, there are now several software tools that could help students with the task of mind-mapping. Most are free, although the industry leader, Inspiration (& Kidspiration for younger kids), is not free, and not very cheap either. Here’s a list of some of the better known concept-mapping/mind-mapping tools out there–
Inspiration has been an industry leader for years now, but it is not free and not cheap either. Their website is a good resource, though, for ideas on how to use such tools in the classroom, and for general reading on the educational benefits of concept mapping. They have also come out with Kidspiration – a version for younger kids. Try the free trial versions just to get a sense for the software.
MindManager – is a paid tool with very pleasing aethetics. This is not as expensive as Inspiration and also has a free trial version you can download and try.
C-Map – is a FREE, good, easy-to-use tool. The information on the home-page of their website also serves to explain all the features of this tool (it’s been put together using C-Map itself!).
FreeMind – is like MindManager, except that its FREE! Make sure you install the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) on your machine before using this.
Mindomo – is available in free as well as paid versions. This is a new web-based concept mapping tool (released barely a week ago) that allows the user to create the maps within the web browser itself, which allows for easy sharing and collaboration. The maps look much like the MindManager maps. The only downside of a web-based tool is that it needs Internet access for use.
bubbl.us – is also a free online “brainstorming” tool. It seems to be very user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing too and appears to serve the “thinking process” better than some of the older tools. The features described on the site are shown through a bubbl.us map. Like Mindomo, this is also an online tool, which is not so great for people with limited Internet access.