This article is meant to offer math teachers a possibility to initiate their own study of concept maps, a powerful heuristic tool designed by Joseph Novak, on the ground that this tool can effectively help university students to face many difficulties for learning science and achieving a meaningful learning. This paper reflects the outcome of a research project undertaken at Universidad Nacional Experimental del Tachira (UNET), Venezuela, investigating different ways teacher and students may use concept mapping in physics. This paper hopes to engage educators on a discussion of this important issue and will focus on answering the following questions: What are Concept Maps? How are they constructed? What is the theory that supports Concept Maps? What are they used for? How can they be used with large groups of university students to facilitate the teaching-learning process? According to our experience, there are some possibilities to use Concept Maps in physics courses. Although we have faced difficulties in building individual concept maps with large groups of students, we are convinced that Concept Maps help to improve understanding of a given subject and facilitate building student's own knowledge, as long as the student has the opportunity to use, criticize, analyze, question or improve expert's maps or Concept Maps generated by his own peers.
Many students at the Universidad Nacional del Tachira face difficulties in science learning. They find it hard to understand a whole body of information and to build their own knowledge about complex conceptual structures. They also find it difficult to link concepts and handle adequate representational techniques either to show or sum up information.
To help solve these problems we have found in Concept Maps a powerful help that facilitates students comprehension of physics at university level. Convinced of its advantages, we want to report our experiences hoping math teachers who have never worked before with Concept Maps may get involved and begin to use them with their students.
This paper is organized to answer, from our perspective, the following questions: What is a Concept Map? How is it constructed? What is its theoretical background? What are they used for? And finally, what strategies involving Concept Maps can be used with university students?
What is a Concept Map?
The first difficulty someone who attempts to comprehend a text faces is to understand what it is all about. That is, to grasp the global sense of the communication, understand its elements and the relationships among them. Imagine a student seeking information about frame of references finds the following text:
A Cartesian frame of reference is a set of two elements: a Cartesian,
linear coordinate system and a clock used to measure time. Cartesian
coordinates are rectilinear two-dimensional or three-dimensional
coordinates which are also called rectangular coordinates. The three
spatial axes of three-dimensional Cartesian coordinates conventionally
denoted the x, y, and z-axes, are chosen to be linear and mutually
perpendicular. Frames of references are used to describe and analyze
motion in one, two or three dimensions (using one two or three oriented
The student may understand some of the concepts involved in this definition. These concepts are linked by words forming whole sentences that seem to make sense. However, trying to understand the overall conceptual structure is more difficult. In our introductory physics courses at university level, it is a commonplace that there is no difference between a Cartesian frame of reference system and a Cartesian, linear coordinate system. Students that read carefully may notice that the two concepts are different. Moreover, one of them is included in the other.
Let the same information be presented in a different way (Figure 1). …