Me: Do you know the treatment for coronavirus?
Student: There IS no treatment
Me: I'll give you a hint....it's a system in your body that we've been studying since September
Student: Uhhh.....is the treatment just to die?
Backstory, we've been learning about the immune system since the beginning of the year. We spent one month learning about viruses, one month on pandemics, and a few months on how the immune system works to fight disease. And yet, here's this student standing right in front of me with some crazy amnesia of everything we've been learning. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing I spent dozens of hours setting up lesson plans and labs only to have this kid forget everything??
To be fair, he wasn't the strongest student, but (as many teachers will tell you) this kind of amnesia ("wait....we learned that?") is pretty common. Helping students make connections is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It's like we'll spend a whole month learning about some topic......but by the end of the month students have just spotty understandings of individual concepts. They understand the trees but not the forest. They understand the textbook questions, but it's harder for them to relate those questions to what's happening in the world around them. Even as an adult, I struggle to connect ideas across different systems, but when I make those connections I know the feeling (that lightbulb moment of "oh THAT's why that's there" or "oh THAT's what that is for").
Then along came my grad school classmate Lior and his awesome workshop on systems mapping! Systems mapping is a method of concept mapping meant to help students see the forest and not just the trees. Here's how we did it.
Step 1: Brain Dump
Step 2: Connected Circles
The awesome thing about systems mapping is that the task is group worthy, meaning students naturally work in groups without the teacher requiring group work to happen. Because this kind of concept mapping was more cognitively demanding, more heads were better than one in order to get the job done. I definitely plan to use systems mapping more moving forward. It's a great example of an inquiry based way of concept mapping new ideas, where areas of dense connections naturally appear for students to notice and analyze.