Concept Maps: Powerful & Accessible (and free!)

Many teachers and learners have discovered the benefits of creating and sharing concept maps, which are also referred to as visual maps, mind maps, and graphic organizers. While the name given to any of these may imply a specific purpose, they are characterized by nodes (concepts) and links (identifying the relationships between and among the concepts).

According to Joseph Novak, a pioneer and developer of concept mapping, purposes include to:

  • generate ideas (e.g., brainstorming)
  • design complex structures (e.g., Web sites, reports)
  • communicate complex ideas
  • integrate new and existing knowledge, thereby aiding learning
  • assess understanding/diagnose misunderstanding

Although concept maps have great value as “organizers,” I think one of their most powerful (and perhaps least utilized) contributions to teaching and learning lies in how they convey connections that exist within and among our content areas. And not facts, necessarily. Concept maps can serve as effective frameworks for supporting kids’ (and our own) construction of how the pieces of the world fit together, whether it be history or science, or math or music (or how history has impacted science or music impacts math). And concept maps aren’t static; they grow and evolve over time, a reflection of how dynamic learning is.

As an early adopter of Inspiration software, the value of simple and intuitive concept mapping isn’t lost on me. And, as technology costs go, Inspiration isn’t overly expensive. But we have to face the fact that any cost is prohibitive in the current climate of shrinking school budgets. So, if you and your students haven’t been mapping your minds freely online (literally and figuratively), it’s a good time to start! is a free Web-based concept mapping program. If you’re familiar with Inspiration, you may be disappointed in the lack of some features, such as a symbol library and a RapidFire tool, but it’s got function and ease of use, and did I mention that it’s free? Some innovative features include the ability to export your concept map as an outline in HTML, which can be opened and edited in a program such as TextEdit, which is in the Applications folder of your MLTI device. You can share your maps with other users, and even collaborate on a project online. I highly recommend that you learn more at the Web site of Tech-Bites, which hosts a tutorial page with both video and text.

Another option to consider is IHMC CmapTools. It’s a bit more sophisticated, but also research-based and documented. It was one of the first online tools that supported remote collaboration by users.

Here’s some more information and reasons to use concept maps for teaching and learning:

Introduction to Concept Mapping by Joseph Novak

Using Concept Mapping as an Assessment Method

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them

3 comments so far

  1. Olga LaPlante on

    I would also like to add text2mindmap website which allows more linear people to first create the indented outline which is then converted to a bubble concept map. The springy effect of the created web is pretty enjoyable and it can be saved as jpeg to your computer once you are finished. I guess it’s just a different way to look at things.

  2. Cynthia Curry on

    Nice! Thanks, Olga.

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