#GeoEdChat 4: How do you ensure students conceptual progression? A think piece by Steve Mouldey

When looking to measure students’ conceptual progression I tend to use Building Conceptual Understandings in the Social Sciences (Ministry of Education, 2008). This publication stated five ways that teachers could identify learners’ conceptual progressions:

·         Level of their understanding and use of abstract concepts increases

·         They make connections between multiple concepts

·         They apply and transfer their understandings to more complex and distant contexts as well as to those that are familiar

·         They take responsible actions and make informed decisions that are based on their understandings

·         They begin to understand that concepts can have different interpretations

We often keep strong records of student achievement but how many of us keep data tracking students’ conceptual progress? The issue with measuring conceptual progression is that they are complex, abstract notions that are constantly shifting. So what data to collect to track this progress?

Ensuring conceptual progress may be too strong a word there is plenty that we can do to provoke this learning. Here’s a few things I have used to prompt students’ conceptual progression:

Explicitly using the concept terms in class Some students inherently understand many of the concepts we cover in class but they just don’t recognise it as that concept. By demonstrating their use in our language students will become more aware of the concept and start using it themselves. I have found this particularly with concepts such as patterns and interaction where they have an understanding of these without realising what that understanding is

Concept Mapping over a unit By getting the students to focus on the concepts in a unit of learning they can help each other grow their understanding. In the first week of a unit get the students to collaborate in small groups on producing a concept map for the topic/issue. This can be done on paper or online. Good websites for online versions are CMap, MindMeister and Bubbl.Us. Then get the students to revisit their concept maps 3 or 4 times. This exercise allows the students to focus on connections between the concepts, discuss their understandings with others (assisting each other to deepen their thinking), visualise their learning and also over the course of time see their progress.

Apply the concepts to current events/ movies/ movie trailers Get the students used to applying the concepts to various ideas. I regularly use current events for this but have also used movies and have friends who have used movie trailers. In this way the students start developing their ability to think like a Geographer and use the concepts as a way of viewing the world.

Concept reflection sheets When getting the students to write or discuss reflections on their learning add specific questions in that make the students focus on their developing conceptual understandings. I have used this in both individual and group reflections to great reward for the students.

I look forward to discussing all this with you on Wednesday!