Using Concept Mapping to Aid African American Students' Understanding in Middle Grade Science Author(s): Donald Snead and

Barbara Young Source: The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer, 2003), pp. 333-343 Published by: Journal of Negro Education Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3211251 Accessed: 25/08/2008 10:19
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Using

Concept
Grade

American Middle

African Mapping to Aid in Students' Understanding
Science

Donald Snead and Barbara Young

the that on Thisarticlereports the resultsof a nine-week investigation examined effectiveness science middle American achievement 182African onscience students, grade of mapping ofconcept as into distributed eightintactearthscienceclasses(byabilitylevels).Abilitylevelwas examined indicated covariance For on a covariate studentachievement. this sample students, analysesof of A on overall no significant effect significant effects treatment scienceachievement. statistically of measured students the achievement and between among average concept mapping student wasfound has items.Theresults assessment mapping a positive suggestthatconcept performance bycombined sciencestudents. on average (lower)abilitylevelAfricanAmerican effect
Several years ago, science educators recommended major reforms regarding the teaching of science in the nation's public schools (National Research Council, 1996). Science educators issued this request for reform because a growing number of students were graduating from public schools without demonstrating competent scientific literacy enabling them to function in a technological and scientific community. Since the reform measures were initiated, data reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2001) indicated that students in fourth and eighth grades performed better in 2000 than previous years, and overall, American students showed academic improvement in science compared to students in Canada and several European and Asian countries. Although gains were indicated overall, eighth-grade science students did not perform as well as fourth-grade science students. In spite of overall gains, African American eighth-grade science students still lag behind other eighth graders in achieving an adequate level of scientific literacy. This assertion is based on several factors. First, as noted in the NAEP report (2001), African American students lag far behind White and Asian students enrolled in the sciences. Second, these data indicate that fewer African American students take advance science courses in high school. Third, African American students are underrepresented in science majors at the college level (Fouad, 1995; Gates, 2001). Fourth, for most African American students, the only courses available are science classes designed to award credit without expectations to learn (DeBacker & Nelson, 2000; Fouad, 1995; Gates, 2001). This lack of achievement by African American middle school science students is further addressed in The Center for Research on Education Diversity and Excellence (CREDE, 2002) investigation involving middle school students to determine what and how "diverse" students learn about scientific ideas. This investigation reports that classroom practices designed to engage diverse students (African American and Hispanic) in exploring the potential meaning and functions of their own ideas about scientific phenomena
Journalof Negro Education, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer 2003) Copyright ? 2003, Howard University

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resulted in higher levels of participation and a deeper understanding of scientific phenomena. These ideas from CREDE suggest teaching science via scientific inquiry, which is at the heart of the National Science Education Standards (American Association for the Advancement in Science, 1995; Odom & Kelly, 1998), is a more effective methodology for these students. Since an important part of scientific inquiry involves students communicating an understanding of the evidence collected and an explanation about the evidence, students need to understand the relationships between explanation and evidence derived from investigations (Ruiz-Primo & Shavelson, 1996). Odom and Kelly (1998) stated that concept mapping, an inquiry-oriented and student-centered tool, may be an effective tool to enable African American students to learn science via scientific inquiry. A concept map is a diagram indicating a student's understanding of the interrelationship among concepts. Concepts are arranged in a hierarchy (from general to specific), connected with a label line. The word or short phrase on the line represents the nature of the relationship between connected concepts. Concept Mapping and Science Achievement The concept mapping strategy is well documented in science education teaching literature (Baroody & Bartels, 2000; Bolte, 1999; Callison, 2001; Dorough & Rye, 1997; Edmondson, 1995; Mohame-Wafaie, 1997; Novak, 1991, 1993; Pendley, Bretz, & Novak, 1994). Much of the attention focuses on the effectiveness of the concept mapping strategy as an instructional and learning tool to enhance science achievement. Yet, relatively few studies evaluate the instructional effectiveness of concept mapping on middle grade science students and even fewer focus on African American middle school science students. This article reports the research findings of Snead (2000) who conducted a study on "The Effect of Concept Mapping on Middle School Science Achievement." The study did not initially focus on African American middle school level students, however, more than 56% of the participants in the average (lower) ability level group were African American. As a result, these data are included herein for discussion. Two questions framed this inquiry: 1. When used as an instructional and learning tool, what effect does concept mapping have on improving students' achievement in middle school? 2. What effect does concept mapping have on achievement of students with different ability levels? In general, concept maps have been successfully constructed by students from kindergarten to college and have been determined to be effective for recognition of organizational patterns and problems, and retaining scientific information (Cliburn, 1990; Moreira, 1977; Penello, 1993; Willerman & MacHarg, 1991). Concept mapping has been developed as a method of tapping into a learner's mental structure and providing the learner and teacher with ways to see what the learner already knows. Novak and Gowin (1984), two leading researchers in concept mapping, assert:
of We do not claim that a conceptmap is a completerepresentation the relevantconceptsand propositions from which both students and that the learnerknows, but we do claim that it is a workableapproximation teacherscan consciously and deliberatelyexpand and move forward.(p. 40)

Advantages of the concept mapping strategy are numerous (Edmondson, 1995; Jegede, Alaiyemola, & Okebukola, 1990; Mason, 1992; Pankratius, 1990; Schmid & Telaro, 1990). Concept maps help the teacher design better lesson plans by increasing cognitive learning and by focusing on higher order learning, such as logical thinking, analysis, and application. In the process of mapping concepts, students' misconceptions are recognized and may be corrected. Unfortunately, the few research articles available on the effectiveness of concept mapping and student achievement in science give mixed results concerning

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its efficacy. Pankratius and Keith (1987) concluded there was no significant difference in achievement by ninth-grade physical science students who were taught to construct concept maps and those students who outlined content. Likewise, Fraser and Edwards (1987) found no significant differences in test scores for ninth-grade science students who constructed concept maps and those who did not. However, they found that students who achieved a high level of concept mapping mastery showed significant gains in achievement compared to those students who did not show concept mapping mastery. Lehman, Carter, and Kahle (1985) found no significant differences in achievement between experimental groups using concept mapping strategy and control groups using traditional or outlining study guide strategy. Two hundred fifty ninth-grade students (97% African American) in 10 intact introductory biology classes participated in the semester long study. Although no statistically significant differences in achievement were reported between the experimental and control groups, Lehman et al. reported that the mean score of the experimental group was greater than the mean score of the comparison group for the achievement posttest, retention test, and relationship test. In contrast, Pankratius (1990) found significant differences in achievement scores for an experimental group using a concept mapping strategy and a control group using traditional instruction. Subjects included 145 high school physics students in 6 intact classes. The experimental group constructed concept maps prior to, during, and subsequent to studying the unit, while the control group received only traditional instruction. Pankratius indicated that students who participated in constructing concept maps prior to, during, and subsequent to instruction had posttest scores 11.0% higher than students who mapped concepts at the end of instruction and 18.4% higher than students in the control group. Pankratius suggests that the degree of involvement in constructing concept mapping was clearly the major factor in the students' achievement. Concept mapping was originally intended as a vehicle to explore meaningful learning acquired through audio-tutorial instruction in elementary science (Markham, Mintzes, & Jones, 1994). Since that time, many researchers and educators have used concept mapping at all levels including testing, instructional and curriculum development, and as an aid for helping students "learn how to learn" (Novak, 1990). Concept mapping is rooted in Ausubel's theory of verbal learning. The key to Ausubel's theory is that it focuses on as recognizing a relationship between new information meaningful learning-defined and something else that the learner already knows (Ormrod, 2000). Meaningful learning occurs when a learner can connect new knowledge to a preexisting cognitive framework. Niehaus (1994) refers to this process as grafting new knowledge onto an old framework and relates meaningful learning to grafting a plant stem into a different tree. The tree accepts the plant stem and the stem is nourished, grows, and becomes a part of the tree. Likewise, ideas need to be linked to each other when several are presented at once-that is, integrated into a conceptual whole. Ausubel (1968) believes that three conditions must exist for meaningful learning to occur: (a) the learner must sense a relationship among the concepts to be learned; (b) the learner must possess specific relevant ideas to which this new material can be related; and, (c) the learner must actually intend to relate these new ideas to ideas already possessed. This process of meaningful learning can be improved by concept mapping through which the learner creates a visual representation of concepts and connects each in a hierarchically arranged structure (Boyle & Yeager, 1997). Boxtel, Linden, Roelofs, and Erkens (2002) suggest that concept mapping promotes meaningful learning as follows: (a) helps students become aware of and reflect on their own (mis)understanding; (b) helps students to participate in developing meaning in learning concepts; (c) provides opportunity for student interaction, thus the more students

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talk about science concepts and the more elaborative the talk, the higher the learning outcomes. Several researchers have reviewed data on how African American students may engage in meaningful learning experiences that result in higher levels of achievement in science. Vaughan (2002) found a significantly positive effect among African American students who were involved in some form of student interaction. Powell and Arriola (2003) found a positive relationship between African American students and meaningful learning as students develop a positive self-regard and a sense of control in the learning process. Nelson (1996) found a relationship between African American students' success in science and students who had few peers to study with in high school. Nelson suggests that a key to making learning more meaningful for African American students is to shift to a student-student group structure. These findings suggest a positive link between concept mapping and meaningful learning among African American students. Therefore, concept mapping seems to be an important tool to help African American students to improve their level of achievement in science.
METHOD

Participants, Design, Instrument, and Procedure The study was conducted in a middle school in South Central Kentucky. It lasted approximately nine weeks and involved a total 182 eighth-grade earth science students, with an average age of 14 years. Approximately 48% of the students were male and 52% were female. The students were divided into eight intact classes. These classes were further divided by ability level (average and above average) since the participating school grouped students in either average or above average classes based on standardized test scores (California Achievement Test, Edition 5). Approximately 56% of the 91 students assigned to the average ability groups were African American students. A quasi, non-randomized, control-treatment group, pretest-posttest experimental design was used for this research study of preassembled classes. Eight intact classes with similarity in ability levels were assigned equally into treatment and control groups to examine any possible treatment effect due to exposure to the concept mapping strategy. Two teachers were involved in the study and each was assigned two treatment and two control groups, which included both above average and average ability levels. The instrument for measuring achievement for the unit under study consisted of a conventional objective test (27 multiple-choice items and 7 short-answer items) and six performance assessment items. A revised quantitative scoring table was used to collect data regarding the amount of effort students exercised in constructing concept maps (Mason, 1992; Snead, 2000). The experimental group became familiar with concept mapping strategy over a threeweek period prior to the study. The familiarization process consisted of one class period per week of instruction in concept mapping techniques and practice sessions on how to develop concept maps. Students were given a list of concepts from selected units previously studied. Students were expected to arrange concepts in a hierarchical manner beginning with the most inclusive, abstract, general concept and proceed to the least inclusive, most concrete, and specific concept. The students then practiced linking related concepts by means of arrows and explanatory notes until a concept map was produced (Jegede et al., 1990). The experimental and control groups were taught the same weather unit using teaching units constructed by the researcher. During the study, the experimental groups were

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required to construct a concept map at selected intervals during the instruction by using key words, phrases, or concepts provided by the teacher. Concept maps from each class were collected, kept by the teachers, and made available to students during the teaching phase of each subunit. Students were permitted to alter concept maps as the teaching unit proceeded and as understanding of the concepts became clearer. At the end of each subunit, concept maps were scored, reviewed with students, and kept by the researcher. While the experimental groups were constructing concept maps, the control groups were engaged in meaningful learning activities related to the concepts expected to appear on a concept map. After nine weeks of teaching, the posttest on weather was administered to the two groups in the same manner as the pretest. The researcher constructed six models of the concept maps indicating possible linkages, number of concepts, propositions, and hierarchical structure (Malone & Dekker, 1994). The researcher decided that a realistic student goal for this study was for students to construct a complete map (with labels) that was generally correct and understandable. A "generally correct and understandable" map was determined by the researcher's ability to correctly read and explain each completed concept map from top to bottom, following a logical continuum from general to more specific concepts. Each student received a grade of at least 80% if the researcher deemed it to be a "generally correct and understandable" map and additional points based on effort (Snead, 2000). A scoring rubric was used to determine the raw scores for each of the four criteria based on the six model maps constructed by the researcher (see Table 1). These scores (not percentage scores) were used for hypotheses testing.
RESULTS

The analysis was performed on data from 162 students. An analysis of covariance (with pretest as the covariate factor) was used to test the hypotheses because of pretest score differences between treatment and control groups. The adjusted means posttest scores indicated that students who used concept mapping did not differ significantly on the posttest, F (1, 161) = .124, p > .05, than the control group of students not using the concept mapping techniques as measured by the conventional test. The analysis revealed that above average ability students had significantly higher achievement scores than average ability students, F (1,161) = 21.66, p < .05. There were no statistically significant interactions, F (1,161) = 1.90, p > .05 (see Table 2). Based on the conventional (posttest) measures, there appeared to be no difference between groups using and not using concept mapping. However, six performance assessment (PA) items were also used as a measure of achievement and were analyzed. Students with missing data were omitted from the analyses; therefore, the number of students will vary for each PA item. These analyses revealed: (a) no significant main effect due to the type of instruction, F (1,154) -, 3.70, p .056; (b) a significant main effect of ability level - 29.50, < F (1,100) .001; and, (c) a significant instructional method by ability level p interaction on PA items 2, 3, and PA Total, F (1,149) - 9.792, p < .05 (see Table 3).
DISCUSSION

Collectively, the data for all students revealed that concept mapping had no statistically significant effect on student science achievement as measured by both the conventional weather test. However, data from the six performance assessment (PA) items gives a different picture for the average ability treatment group, which offers some important findings regarding student ability grouping and achievement. Although the adjusted mean score for the average ability treatment group was not statistically higher than the

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TABLE 1

StudentConstructed ScoringRubricfor Evaluating ConceptMaps
LEVEL 1 NUMBEROF CONCEPTS LEVEL 2 LINKAGES 3 LEVEL HIERARCHY LEVEL 4 PROPOSITION

5 points Studenthas 100%of Studentlinkstwo or the total concepts more concepts togetherto forma groupor show branching 4 points Studenthas 90% to Studentmakesall 99% of the total possible linkages concepts

Studentstructure flows evenly in a horizontaland verticalvs. flowing in one direction Studenthas all concepts correctly assignedto level

Studentuses correct proposition(s) (none repeated) Studentuse correct with proposition(s) fewer than two proposition(s) repeated Studentuse both scientificand simple propositions correctly Studentuses all simple propositions correctly

3 points Studenthas 80% to 89% of the total concepts 2 points Studenthas 70% to 79% of the total concepts

1 point Studenthas up to 69% of the total concepts 0 points No responseby the studentor off task

Studenthas no more than 1 inaccurate linkageand/oromitted morethan one linkage Studentomits two possible linkages,or have two inaccurate linkage,or omits one linkageand has one inaccuratelinkage Studenthas numerous inaccuratelinkages,or omits numerous possible linkages No responseby the studentor off task

Studenthas concepts one level removedfromthe assignedlevel

Studentuses simple with a propositions few errors Studentshas No responseby the studentor off task concepts that are two levels removed fromassignedlevel

TABLE 2

2 x 2 (Treatment AbilityLevel)Covariance x Analysisof PosttestScores with PretestCovaried
SOURCE Df F P

Instructional Method AbilityLevel I xA Error
I= instructional method; A= ability level **
p <.01

1 1 1 161

BetweenSubjects 0.12 21.66** 1.90 (8.71)

0.72 0.17

Note: Values enclosed parentheses in meansquare errors. represent

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TABLE3 Univariate 2 x 2 (Student Ability x Instructional Method) Covariance Analyses for Each of the Six Performance Assessment (PA) and PA Total
SOURCE df F P

PA1 Ability Level Instructional Method Ax I Error PA2 Ability Level Instructional Method Ax I Error PA3 Ability Level Instructional Method Axl Error PA4 Ability Level Instructional Method Ax Error PA5 Ability Level Instructional Method Ax Error PA6 Ability Level Instructional Method Ax Error PA Total Ability Level Instructional Method Ax Error

1 1 1 143 1 1 1 149 1 1 1 141 1 1 1 154 1 1 1 150 1 1 1 151 1 1 1 100

1.67 13.23** 3.29 (0.98) 0.19 0.40 9.79* (0.90) 0.47 13.35** 8.15* (0.90) 3.70* 9.40** 1.02 (0.69) 2.18 13.15** 2.48 (1.21) 1.69 19.1** 1.20 (0.52) 2.56 29.5** 4.10* (7.78)

0.19 0.07 0.65 0.84 0.002 0.49 0.005 0.05 0.003 0.31 0.14 0.11 0.19 0.27

0.11 0.04

mean squareerror. Note:Valuesenclosed in parentheses represent method A= abilitylevel; I= instructional
*p = < .05; **p= < .01

average ability control group, the adjusted mean scores for the treatment average group were higher than the average ability control as measured by the conventional test. When considering the results of the six PA items, a slightly different picture emerges among average ability students (see Table 4). On PA items 2, 3, and the PA Total, the average treatment group scored significantly better than the control group. On PA items 1, 4, 5, and 6 the treatment group scores were higher than the scores of the control group but not significantly higher.

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TABLE 4

Assessment(PA)of AverageAbilityLevelGroups AdjustedMeans for Six Performance
ITEMNO. M TREATMENT SD n M CONTROL SD n

PA1 PA2 PA3 PA4 PA5 PA6 Total

1.06 2.78 2.54 2.95 1.58 1.83 12.67

1.07 1.33 1.06 1.01 1.18 0.68 2.90

34 41 39 40 36 40 27

0.94 1.92 1.800 2.57 1.31 1.50 9.53

0.85 1.25 .87 1.01 1.49 .081 3.78

31 24 25 30 29 26 15

Note:Only studentswith completedata were includedin the analyses,therefore samplesize will vary.

Schmid and Telaro (1990) reported that concept mapping influences average ability level students more than it influences above average ability level students. According to Piaget (1972), many middle school students have not reached a formal level of abstract reasoning, causing them to depend on concrete reasoning as a primary mode of learning. Concept mapping enables students functioning on this more concrete level to visualize the interrelationships among concepts and link these to concepts already possessed and helps the average ability level students to improve comprehension. It is clear that this study presents no overwhelming statistically significant differences between students using concept mapping and those not using concept mapping. It did produce differences favoring the African American segment within the average ability level concept mapping students. Therefore, concept mapping does appear to move African American average ability (lower) level students slowly toward more meaningful learning. What might these findings suggest for African American science students? Hale-Benson (1986) suggests that African Americans learn most effectively when they are provided opportunities to view the whole picture rather than its parts and tend to focus on approximation rather than absolute accuracy. Concept mapping seems to accommodate these factors in some way. The researcher reviewed the teachers' log and written responses from several of the African American students. Responses in the log were written by the students as a reply to the question, "What do you think about concept mapping?" One student stated, "Concept maps are very helpful to help you organize your notes." Another student commented, "Making the concept maps helps me by breaking down the concepts into something I can understand. This is also an easier way of diagramming important information." A third student wrote, "Concept maps have helped me to understand the material better. It does take time, but it is easier to understand the relationship between things after you are done." A fourth student wrote, "Concept maps have helped me because it has taught me how all of these words relate to each other and learn what goes on with them." In addition, other students mentioned that concept maps helped them understand concepts and organize information in a workable form because the maps showed relationships among concepts. In general, most students expressed a belief that concept mapping helped them understand ideas more, and it provided a more effective means of recognizing relationships between and among concepts. As a result, students demonstrated positive attitudes toward concept mapping. Students suggested that concept mapping was useful in organizing concepts in log entries. This idea of organizing concepts embraces Hale-Benson's point

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that African American students learn more easily through visualizing the whole picture rather than its parts. Therefore, students understand individual concepts in terms of a whole unit rather than isolated facts about a particular unit. Furthermore, since students use their prior knowledge in constructing concept maps, an opportunity is provided for students to view new knowledge as a component of what they already know rather than as unrelated, irrelevant facts (Novak, 1990). Hale-Benson (1986) further suggests that African American students prefer inferential reasoning, which encompasses deductive reasoning, rather than inductive reasoning. During map construction, some students were seen moving a particular concept or idea back and forth between levels and sections until an appropriate location reflecting its correct position was found. Concept mapping required students to think on different levels. Thus, concept mapping provided students with an opportunity to move away from absolute accuracy. Students cast and recast their own knowledge structure as they engaged in "ifthen" (inferential) reasoning. Some of the students quickly recognized for themselves what concepts and connections were not clear or completely understood. This self-evaluation prompted them to reason out a connection, research the topic, or ask questions. They were given the chance to take risks in creative ways of thinking and reasoning. Concept mapping activities underscored personal interpretation and deductive reasoning abilities. The researcher graded each concept map and provided frequent and immediate feedback to students (see Table 1). Frequent and immediate feedback seemed to be an important dimension in students' concept mapping experiences. When students received feedback with regard to their map construction, the grade was usually 80% or higher. A grade at this percentage level represented a major achievement for these African American students who, in most cases, had previously received lower grades. Several students noted in log entries that they liked concept mapping because of the grades they received. Since concept mapping gave these students a sense of accomplishment, they worked harder due to the enhanced satisfaction that resulted from this experience. Thus, concept mapping became a device that motivated student participation in the science discourse. According to DeBacker and Nelson (2000) there is a positive relationship among perceived ability, science achievement, and effort in science class. The suggestion is that high scores form clusters that support optimism and persistence during learning. The researcher acknowledges that concept mapping is not a fix-all remedy for underachieving-low ability level African American students in middle grade sciences. The researcher recognizes that students bring to the science classroom a great deal of competence and natural aptitude for academic success. Academic failure is often associated with student/teacher mismatch in learning style. African American students are often unable to adapt to a teacher's preferable/dominant learning style. Therefore, middle grade science teachers should consider building instruction that incorporates the learning style preferences of African American students. This study has several inherent limitations. The study did not initially target African American students as the designated population. Furthermore, the students were previously assigned to eight intact classes. Therefore, true random selection of students and random placement of students were unavailable. A second limitation of this study was the length of treatment. The nine weeks allotted may not have been sufficient time for students to develop and apply concept mapping techniques. It is conceivable that students spent time during the treatment period learning the techniques of concept mapping instead of learning the content. Due to scope and sequence limits placed on curriculum and timing of the research project, it was necessary to impose a nine-week restriction on time allocation.

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Given these limitations, this study provides some evidence that African American students using concept mapping as a learning tool performed better than students not using concept mapping. This suggests that science teachers should vary their methodology and use the concept mapping strategy as a learning tool when working with African American students. Further study must be done to validate these findings.
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AUTHORS DONALDSNEAD is an Assistant Professorin the EducationalLeadershipDepartmentat Middle Tennessee His State University;dsnead@mtsu.edu. interests include using concept mapping in elementaryand middle school scienceteachingto improveAfricanAmericanstudents'level of achievement,improvingscienceteacher quality with teacherwork sample, and using teacherwork sample to assess student learning. Her interests YOUNG is a Professorat Middle Tennessee State University;bayoung@mtsu.edu. BARBARA effective teaching,and classroommanagement. include multiculturalism,

The Journalof Negro Education

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