Mind map standard

As I get my optics class together (it starts next week), I’ve been thinking about whether I should continue my old practice of developing a mind map of the course on a daily basis. Last time I taught the course, we would take time in each class to decide if anything needed to be added to the mind map. By the end of the term, the map was pretty impressive, but I don’t think the effort was worth it.

I’ve done work with mind maps before, including using them in final exams. I like them because students can demonstrate an understanding of what the big ideas are and how they’re connected. I figured that doing a daily activity like that would continue to get them to think globally about the concepts. However, I think each time we’d do it we’d just zoom in on the local stuff (the chapter we were in, for example) and not really focus as much on global concerns.

So here’s the new idea: A class standard called “I can make and describe a mind map of the course material up to this point using only 10 nodes.” When asked to assess it, the students would draw a mind map and talk about how they made their decision about the 10 nodes and why and how they think they’re connected. I limit them to 10 so that they don’t just do what I did last time, making the mind map continually larger as the semester goes along.

My hope is that they’ll have to recalibrate each time they are asked to assess it. It’ll be “active” from the beginning of the semester, with an initial due date of just a week later. So that’ll be a mind map talking about our earliest material (some complex numbers and Maxwell’s equations). Later, mostly in the oral exams, they’ll have to be judicious with their choices of the nodes.

One concern I have is that they’ll really only recalibrate the most recent material, giving, say, 6 nodes to old stuff and then use 4 for much more detail. I suppose I could be careful in assessing them, giving that particular approach a lower score.

So help me out. What do you think? Here’s some starters for you:

  1. I was in this class last time and I thought it was great. I especially liked …
  2. I was in this class last time and I thought it was a waste of time. Mostly I hated . . .
  3. Why 10? I think you should do ____ nodes.
  4. This is cool. You should assess it a little differently than your normal videos. Here’s what I have in mind . . .
  5. This is dumb. Optics is part of physics, which is just a collection of facts to memorize.
  6. This is cool, but I don’t think it would work in my class called . . .
  7. I think what you did last time is better, you just have to tweak . . .

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
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4 Responses to Mind map standard

  1. I don’t do mind maps for any classes I teach. So take this with a grain of salt, but you said “I like them because students can demonstrate an understanding of what the big ideas are and how they’re connected.” When I think of “big ideas” in a course, I try to think of the 3-6 biggest concepts that I really want the students to get out of the course. How many big ideas do you have in the course in your mind? There are an infinite number of nodes that can fit under each big idea, so I like your idea of limiting the number of nodes.

    I would look carefully at how many times you ask the class to make and reconfigure the mind map. I get the impression you thought discussing the mind map every day was too much, or as you said, not worth the effort. If I were to do something like this, I would probably not do it even weekly. In a 15-week term, if I think I have 5 truly “big ideas” I would aim for a little bit more than once every three weeks: enough so the students are familiar with the process, but not so much that it is tedious for them.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah, I think doing it daily was definitely a mistake. With this plan, they’ll all do it in one week, just to understand what I’m looking for, and then they’ll all likely do it at least once more as a vid at their leisure, and then someone will do it during each of the oral exam sections of the course (there’s 3 of those each lasting 3 days).

  2. bretbenesh says:

    Hi Andy,

    For what it is worth, here is what I am doing: students are told to make a mind map only of topics that I have pre-determined. They need to explain how the things relate, though. They are told to update this weekly, and I check them quarterly.

    By the way: I totally stole the mind map idea from you, Andy.

    But I think that you could probably do reasonably well simply by telling the students that you do not want them to focus solely on the new material. Maybe just reminding them will be enough?

    • Joss Ives says:

      Bret. That’s in interesting way of coming at it. Here is the specified list of ideas for your map…now go! I can imagine using this for sets of ideas one down from the big ideas and trying to help them see the connections between these.

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