An Innovative Use of Concept Mapping for Improving and Assessing STEM
Teachers’ Conceptual Understanding
Baki Cavlazoglu, [email protected], Texas A&M University, USA; Ozcan E. Akgun, [email protected],
Sakarya University, Turkey; Carol L. Stuessy, [email protected], Texas A&M University, USA.
Abstract: Conceptual understanding of STEM subjects is an important component in teacher
workshops that needs to be taken into consideration because most STEM subjects require
knowing different segments or domain specific knowledge and also a well constructed
connection among different domains. In this study, we observed that innovative use of
concept mapping result in meaningful learning that enhances conceptual learning of both
individual and group learning. We strongly recommend inclusion of more innovative concept
mapping activities into different learning environments including STEM teacher workshops,
especially, group concept mapping activities that have a great potential for meaningful
conceptual learning.
Conceptual understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is an
important component in teacher workshops that needs to be taken into consideration. This is because most STEM
subjects require knowing different segments or domain specific knowledge and also a well constructed connection
among different domains (National Research Council [NRC], 2012). Therefore, effective conceptual understanding
methods or techniques are crucial. In addition, different authentic assessment methods are vital to improve learning
and teaching over traditional assesments (NRC, 2000). To fulfill these needs, concept mapping has been considered
as a powerful conceptual learning tool and also a great authentic assessment tool that encourage meaningful learning
(Novak, 2010; Novak, 1990; Novak & Gowin, 1984; Kaya 2008; Ingec, 2008) in a formative way.
Concept mapping was firstly developed in Joseph D. Novak’s research program in order to understand
children’s knowledge changes in science (Novak & Gowin, 1984). This method was inspired from Ausubel’s
meaningful learning theory (Ausubel 1968) that explains differences between rote learning and meaningful learning
(Novak, 2008). In this sense, there are three main needs for meaningful learning: (1) a clear conceptual
understanding and relatable learner’s prior knowledge, (2) relevant prior knowledge, and (3) learner’s decision of
learning meaningfully (Novak, 2010).
There are many research studies that remarked benefits of using concept mapping technique for meaningful
learning (e.g., Novak, 2010; Novak, 1990; Novak & Wandersee, 1991). This is because concept mapping is a
powerful method for facilitation of meaningful learning and has the potential of scaffolding desired knowledge
(Novak, 2010). Nakhleh (1994) reported that concept mapping technique enables learners actively participate into
knowledge formation process and enhance students’ responsibility. Also, concept maps serve the opportunity to see
and overcome students’ misconceptions for meaningful learning (Novak, 2002; Kaya, 2008) because they illustrate
visual organization of information (Ingec, 2008) that enables understanding where learners have misconception
about a specific subject. In addition, Novak, Gowin, and Johansen (1983) ascertained that concept maps improve
students’ creativity skills including thinking, analyzing, and problem solving skills and facilitate learners’
understanding of the concepts. Moreover, concept mapping is very helpful for multidimensional subjects that consist
of more than one knowledge domain for establishing well organized cross-links in order to see different domains’
relationships (Novak, 2010) with a concrete and visual way (Ingec, 2008).
In addition, concept mapping has been considered as an authentic assessment tool (Kaya, 2008; Novak,
2010). According to Kaya (2008), authentic assessment enhances learning and teaching. Discussion or
argumentation among learners during concept map building in small groups allows improving conceptual
understanding. Also, Novak and Gowin (1984) indicated that the negotiation process of individually constructed
concept maps in small groups results in better understanding. Moreover, this assessment method is a student
centered approach (NRC, 2000) that gives the opportunity to revise learners’ understanding and let them get timely
feedback when needed. With this tool, teachers easily can monitor students’ progress of conceptual understanding.
To help students construct usable and meaningful knowledge via concept mapping, also has a sociocultural
aspect of collaborative learning (Brophy & Good, 2008). According to Vygotsky (1978), social dialogs can facilitate
and support learning, especially when social group members are at about same level of Zone of Proximal
Development (ZPD). ZPD is described as the understanding level of learners for a given subject that learner can
progress individually with minimal support from a tutor. In this sense, when students use concept maps to facilitate
their learning in groups and work collaboratively, notably greater meaningful learning occurs (Preszler, 2004). Thus,
using concept mapping method to guide learners’ learning with adequate collaboration of groups is a great
opportunity to facilitate and enhance the learning process.
Despite many research studies about use of concept mapping as learning (e.g., Novak & Gowin, 1984;
Novak, 2010) and assessment tool (e.g., Kaya, 2008; Ingec, 2008), until very recently there have been few studies
that investigate the effect of group concept mapping over individual concept mapping and compare individual and
group concept mapping within a different way of use. Hence, the purpose of this study is to find out the effects of
group working on innovative use of concept mapping in a STEM teacher workshop. To achieve this purpose, we
investigated individual and group concept mapping scores of a group of participants who were enrolled in a summer
STEM teacher workshop. Our research questions are: (1) Is there any difference between the quality of concept
maps prepared individually and prepared in groups collaboratively? (2) Is there any significant difference between
the pre and post concept mapping scores of individuals, and groups? (3) How the individual concept map scores
related with group concept map scores?
The study conducted in one group posttest only design that is one of the pre-experimental designs. This
research design also called one shot case study or case study (Salkind, 2010). As the participants were naturally part
of the learning environment, there was no random selection for this research. The participants were 14 STEM
teachers across the U.S, 5 males and 9 females. For the group concept mapping activity, they were divided into five
groups. For this workshop effectiveness and teachers’ conceptual understanding of the workshop subjects, we
conducted a pre- concept mapping activity at the beginning of the workshop. Also, at the end of the workshop a
post-concept mapping activity was conducted to see how teachers’ conceptual understandings were changed
throughout the workshop and how effective the workshop was. Moreover, we aimed to see how group concept
mapping activity effect on teachers’ conceptual understanding.
The data were collected from individual and group concept maps. The researchers asked participants to use
large paper, post-it notes, and markers to construct their concept maps as hands-on activity. This innovative way of
using post-it notes on a large paper made easier to organize concepts. In the beginning of first concept mapping
activity, a short training about general principals of constructing concept maps was given even though 90% percent
of participants had concept mapping experiences and used concept mapping in their teachings. In addition, some
good example of concept maps were presented and discussed with participants. After all questions clarified about
concept mapping procedures, the teachers were challenged to prepare their first concept maps individually for pretest purpose of the workshop. Then, the teachers randomly were divided into groups to present their concept maps to
their group members. After each group member’s presentation of individual concept maps to other teachers in each
group and group discussion, every group constructed a group concept map. At the end of the workshop, same
procedures were used. Individual and group concept maps within same groups were constructed. We considered
number of valid or invalid used concepts, new added concepts, propositions, cross-links, examples and depth
according to related literature (Ingec, 2008; Kaya, 2008; Novak & Gowin, 1984) for coding and scoring. Authors
scored concept maps independently and found inter-scorer correlations are significant, positive and higher than .82
(see Table 1.). We used descriptive statistics for research question 1, paired t test, and Wilcoxon-Sign test for
research question 2, and bivariate correlations for research question 3. Means of two scorers’ points were used for
Table 1. Inter-Scorer Correlations
Individual Concept Maps†
Group Concept Maps‡
Pearson, ‡Spearman-Brown.
Results, Discussion and Implications
We examined the quality of individual and group concept maps by considering valid use or invalid use of
concepts, propositions, cross-link, examples and depth levels for each concept map. According to descriptive
statistics, group concept maps scores greatly better than individual concept map scores (see Table 2). It is an
interesting finding that although the pre-scores of individual and group concepts map are very close, the post-scores
of those are very different. It can be predicted that group concept mapping may yield better results by more
experience, but group dynamics of working with same persons or working in groups as a new experience may have
different effects on group concept mapping.
Table 2. Mean Scores of Concept Maps
The Number of
The Number of
The Number of
The Number of
Total Score
We employed t test and Wilcoxon-Sign test to examine individual and group pre- and post- concept map
scores. It was found that post scores of individual concept maps are significantly higher than individual pre scores
(see Table 3), and post scores of group concept maps are significantly higher than group pre scores (see Table 4).
These results illustrate that both individual and group concept mapping is a great learning tool that enhance
conceptual learning meaningfully and concept mapping works well as an authentic assessment tool for both
individual and group learning.
Table 3. Paired Sample t Test Results of Individual Concept Map Scores
Table 4. Wilcoxon-Sign Test Results of Group Concept Map Scores
Post -Pre
Negative Ranks
Positive Ranks
Mean Rank
Sum of Ranks
In order to find out the effect of group members’ individual scores in group concept mapping, we
calculated mean score of group members’ individual concept map for each group and use it to find out the
correlation with group concept map scores. Surprisingly, there is no significant relationship in pre-scores, but postscores have significant, positive and high correlation (see Table 5). This results show that when group members’
individual scores are high, their group scores are high as well in the post-concept mapping, but it is not true in the
first concept mapping experience. This means that individual concept mapping experiences positively affect
participants’ group concept mapping after a group concept mapping experience. This result can be considered in
future researches for the decision process of dividing learners into groups when concept maps are used as learning
and assessment tool.
Table 5. Spearman Brown Correlation Coefficients Calculated between Group Concept Map Scores and Mean of
Group Members Individual Concept Map Scores
Spearman's rho
Group Pre-Scores
Mean of Members Pre- Scores
Mean of Members PostScores
*p < .05
Group PostScores
Mean of Members
Pre- Scores
Group Pre-Scores
In conclusion, we observed that our innovative use of concept mapping is a great learning tool for
meaningful learning that enhances conceptual learning of both individual and group learning. In addition, this way
of using concept mapping is a unique assessment tool that provides much more insight of learning process than
traditional assessment methods. We strongly recommend inclusion of more innovative concept mapping activities
into different learning environments including STEM teacher workshops, especially, group concept mapping
activities that have a great potential for meaningful conceptual learning. Thus, we recommend providing this type of
innovative concept mapping activities for learners to greatly facilitate their learning and assess their learning in an
authentic way that allows seeing more insights of their learning process.
Ausubel, D. P. (1968). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Brophy & Good. (2008). Looking in classrooms. (10th ed., Vol. 5). Boston: Pearson.
Ingec, S.K. (2008). Using concept maps as an assestment tool in physics education. Hacettepe University Journal of
Education, 35, 195-206.
Kaya, O. N. (2008). A student-centred approach: Assessing the changes in prospective science teachers’ conceptual
understanding by concept mapping in a general chemistry laboratory. Research in Science Education, 38,
91–110. DOI 10.1007/s11165-007-9048-7.
Nakhleh, M. B., (1994 ). Chemical education research in the laboratory environment. Journal of
Chemical Education, 71(3), 201–205.
National Science Foundation. (2010). Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators: Identifying and
developing our nation’s human capital. Retrieved from
National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.
National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and
core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Novak, J. D. (1990). Concept maps and vee diagrams: Two metacognitive tools for science and mathematics
education. Instructional Science, 19, 29-52.
Novak, J. D., & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. New York, NY: Cambridge
University Press.
Novak, J. D. (2002). Meaningful learning: The essential factor for conceptual change in limited or appropriate
propositional hierarchies (liphs) leading to empowerment of learners. Science Education, 86(4), 548-571.
Novak, J. D. (2010), Learning, creating, and using knowledge: Concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and
corporations. New York, NY: Routledge.
Novak, J. D., Gowin, D. B, & Johansen, G. T. (1983). The use of concept mapping and knowledge vee mapping
with junior high school science students. Science Education, 67(5), 625–645.
Novak, J. D., & Wandersee, J. (1991). Coeditors, special issue on concept mapping.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(10).
Preszler, R. W. (2004). Cooperative concept mapping improves performance in biology.
Journal of College Science Teaching, 33, 30-35.
Salkind, N. J. (2010). Encyclopedia of Research Design, 1st ed, Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Vygotsky, L., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

An Innovative Use of Concept Mapping for Improving and