Using Mindmaps to Revise

I’ve blogged before about using a concept map for revision and I suspect that most of what I have to say is not news for most teachers. However, I was putting together some resources for my classes and thought I might as well share them here too. I have a sneaking suspicion that I am spending more time on this than my students are.

Mind maps are good, but pupils can get hung up on the wrong bits. These are a few suggestions I give to help keep them on the right track.

  1. Start in the middle and leave lots of space – a concept map is never really finished.
  2. Basic principles or ‘headings start near the middle; work outwards towards the fine details.
  3. Colours don’t matter unless they add meaning. If red is used to mark ‘dangers’, or green for ‘examples’, great. Too often students reach for coloured pencils to avoid thinking.
  4. Bubble writing is a waste of time.

Just because it’s easy to give students mind maps doesn’t mean we should. Copying them, however, is pretty much a waste of time. So how can we make sure that what they produce is worthwhile?

  1. Give them the material (or some of it – differentitation opportunity!) on file cards and ask them to arrange them in a concept map.
  2. Ask each student to write three key ideas on a post-it and then have them make the concept map on a table. Introduce an extra step by having them start by making one in groups, either the whole topic or one part of it.
  3. Give each student or group a specific range of pages in the revision guide, or from their folders, as their source material. Tick (perhaps with a pencil) the notes as they are ‘translated’ into the concept map.
  4. Divide them into groups and have them reproduce a printed mindmap in short bursts – each team member has 20-30 seconds to look at the original, then 2 minutes to write down what they remember. The rest of the team can prompt and suggest but not write in that time. More able groups may be organised enough to each focus on a different branch. Alternatively, let them all look at the same time as see how far they can get together.
  5. Give them a mindmap  but photocopy it with blank areas. Can they fill in the gaps? Can they improve what’s there or add connections? They can use this as an audit to check what they are confident with and what they need to focus on. You could aso give students the main headings so they have some structure, perhaps witht he next link if you think they would benefit.

I think it’s very important to help the students realise how varied concept maps will be. Three people will produce very different maps, even if they have the same headings to start with. This is true for three able students, or even three teachers – it’s not about ability or knowledge but about how we show the links between concepts. Having members of the class compare their mind maps and give constructive feedback to each other can be very interesting – especially if you then have them add comments to the board, divided into ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’. They could be shared electronically through a VLE or mailing list, if you use them with your classes.

I’ve uploaded some printable mind maps below, for AQA Additional: P2.  This is the exam my students are (theoretically) preparing for. I produced them using MindMeister (exporting as gif files works better than pdf I’ve found) as I find this more useful for me; my students tend to prefer Bubbl.us which is really quick to use. I’d really welcome any suggestions or ideas for (free) software or weblinks as I feel both sites have weaknesses.

printable: p2 mindmaps as pdf

DIY Photoelectric Effect and Electroscope

I suppose I could claim this is seasonal – it does use tinsel, after all! But in reality it’s just that I’ve gotten around to producing the resource to go along with this post.

 

 
While teaching AS Physics (AQA A, if you care) I requested, as usual, the apparatus to demonstrate the photoelectric effect; this is one of the first experiments that demonstrated particle properties of light, as later explained by Einstein. The gold-leaf electroscope arrived, with a piece of zinc and a UV lamp. It didn’t work. I did what all good physics teachers do; after messing around a little with the equipment then swore where the kids couldn’t hear me. When I had the chance, I had a look online.
 
This is a notoriously unreliable experiment in the school science lab. I hoped for some hints and tips to make it work better. What I found was far superior – a version my students could build for themselves in a lesson from odds and ends, starting with a drinks can. It was demonstrated on Youtube and I followed links to a set of instructions, but thought they were rather complicated for the average student. So here’s my own version; drinks can electroscope as a pdf.
I must emphasize that this is not my idea, but I have produced a student-friendly version of the instructions. As far as I can tell this grew out of a demonstration at the American Physics Teachers Conference, and of course there are other home-made electroscopes around.
 
According to the original instructions, a ‘hand sanitizer’ works well as the UV source. You can get these in the UK direct from the supplier, Wallace Cameron, for about £15.

Spot the Physics

As part of a project I’m involved with at the moment (more accurately have been involved with, but haven’t been blogging about) I’ve been looking at ways to get students thinking more about how physics as a subject can affect their future lives. I know we all do loads about context, and how relevant it is, and how our lives would be different etc etc, but this was something different. After talking to some of our sixth formers I realised how few careers they could suggest that had something to do with physics.

Seriously, two; ‘doctor’ and ‘nuclear physicist’.

My first idea was, rather indirectly, inspired by the ‘What Have The Romans Done For Us’ sketch from Monty Python, via the excellent parody at The Lay Scientist. I gave a group the image of a classroom and asked them to suggest all the ways in which people had used physics to make it work. With a few hints – okay, a lot of hints – they came up with loads of good ideas.

As you can see above (click the picture for the pdf) I ‘translated’ this into a poster, which is the stimulus for the next lesson, not necessarily with the same group).

The class get an example, and links to sites like the careers page at the Institute of Physics. They also get, in groups of four or five, a different situation – teenager’s bedroom, football match, doctors’ surgery and so on. They then have to produce an equivalent poster which shows the variety of jobs/careers/roles that involve physics to a greater or lesser extent.

I can’t easily upload the original Publisher versions (without messing with things like Dropbox and similar, anyway) so instead you’ll have to make do with the  printable: spot the physics, saved as a pdf. So you now have a choice:

  1. spend time copying and pasting, or convert them with something like pdftoword if you don’t have pdf editing software
  2. start from scratch, so they end up just the way you want them
  3. email me and I’ll send you the files, free of charge, because I get a warm glow at any hint anyone reads this blog

This wasn’t the only approach I took. I’m working on a big list of science related careers (not working very hard because there must be something out there, right?) for the school VLE. I’m doing some work on combating ‘medicine is the only clinical career’ tunnel vision. And I’ve annotated a ‘highest paid professions’ list with a highlighter to show just how useful interesting profitable physics can be.

But more about those in my next post.

PS These files are the first I’m tagging with the Creative Commons logo. This is just a way of formalising what I’ve posted about several times, that I’m perfectly happy for people to use and edit my content, but I’d rather they (a) didn’t make a profit and (b) credited me or the blog. More information on the specific licence I’ve chosen at Creative Commons: by-nc-sa.