Concept Mapping in the High School Physics Classroom

Below is the content of my poster presentation from the American Association of Physics Teachers national meeting in Ann Arbor, MI. (I’ll be adding graphs from surveys shortly.)

Concept Mapping in Physics

AAPT Summer Meeting; July 28, 2009

Lee Trampleasure

Carondelet High School

Concord, CA

Concept Mapping in Physics

Concept mapping is the creation of a diagram that represents the relationships between concepts.

  • Maps can be thought of as a substitution for an outline and maps includes the option of weaving the concepts together in more of a web than the more linear traditional outline.


  • concepts are placed in a boxes

Concept Mapping Software

Concept mapping has been around for quite a while, long before their introduction as computer software.

The computer software Inspiration” was one of the first programs to gain widespread use in education (introduced in 1996).

In my class I use CMapTools. CmapTools:

  • was created by the Institute for Machine and Human Cognition (IMHC), a university affiliated research institute.
  • is distributed free of charge for educational and personal use.
  • is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
  • also has server software available that allows students to share their maps with each other.
  • is stable and well enough documented to satisfy the most demanding school IT coordinator.

Concepts maps in high school

I use concepts maps in two ways:

  1. Students create their own concept maps.
    • Part of the learning experience is reviewing the concepts and creating the connections individually or in groups.
    • I give them the option of drawing the map freehand: not all students feel comfortable using the computer program (however most students opt to use the program).
  2. Occasionally I provide students with copies of a concept map I have created.

Concept Mapping Grading

Determine the number of concepts and/or relationships you expect students to have:

  • Either provide students with a list or create a realistic number they should come up with.
  • Check off each until you get to your minimum.

Determine if there are any concepts and/or relationships that you feel are more important that you will weigh more heavily.

  • I find that with one or two of these, circling them helps me confirm the student has marked them.

Copying presents a concern since it is so easy to duplicate (with or without minor changes)

  • Grade them all at the same time: it will be easier to recognize the duplicates.
  • Be clear with students your expectation for group or individual work.

Student opinions

After we completed the assignment, students were given a “ten point” (minimal) assignment to complete a nine-question survey online (anonymous, using our school’s Moodle web site). Out of 101 students, 81 completed the survey (80% response) Two of my classes are coed, and two are all-girl; 76% response in all girl classes.

How easy did you find the Cmap program to use?

graphs coming soon.

Creating the concept map helped me understand the connections between the concepts.

graphs coming soon.

Sample student comments


  • I like being able to see the connection between forces and equations and how one formula’s answer could be a variable needed for another equation. With the concept map I was able to make this and other connections.
  • I think just doing it helped me understand. I never actually had to use it when taking the test but once I just did it the concept stuck.
  • I thought it was a pretty cool learning tool to use for memory purposes and it help me understand what we were learning better. it helped me come out with a B on the test soo that was a very good thing!


  • I like the program but personally it doesn’t help me. But it would maybe help me more if i used it more often.


  • I personally find outlines a bit more helpful because on the concept map everything is spread out and it seems like too much to take in.
  • It was hard to get what you really wanted to show.

One Reply to “Concept Mapping in the High School Physics Classroom”

  1. Hi Mr. Trampleasure, what an amazing post. I am a high school senior and have an early admit from Dartmouth College. I am planning to major in Physics. I have been using concepts maps for sometime and has working knowledge of CMapTools. Kudos to you!. By the way, i came across these excellent physics flashcards. Its also a great initiative by the FunnelBrain team. Amazing!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.