Get Inside Their Heads with Mind Mapping

By: By Anna Adam and Helen Mowers
School Library Journal, 9/1/2007

Whenever you’re working out an idea, it always helps to picture it. Whether they’re called mind or concept maps or idea bursts, these visual tools are invaluable when it comes to planning a piece of writing or other project. Graphic representations of ideas and how they connect to each other can help students through that brainstorming process, helping them organize their thoughts in a visual, nonlinear way before taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Inspiration and Kidspiration are two popular graphic organizers for K–12 students. Both are powerful, multi-platform tools that offer large libraries of symbols and curricular templates. An open-source (read “free”) alternative is FreeMind. Compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux, FreeMind lends itself to use by upper middle- and high school students.

A number of Web-based applications provide the same kinds of nonlinear, graphical planning, but with the added benefit of portability and the potential for collaboration. With these tools, teachers and students alike can connect to their work anywhere, anytime, on campus or at home, via a compatible web browser. And collaboration? Multiple users can access and edit a mind map at the same time. Most applications provide tools for real-time communication and log the changes made by each user. Thus, students working in groups can share their ideas without having to wait for their “turn.” Because one document is shared via the Web, users no longer have to worry about which version is the most current.

One of our favorite online tools is MindMeister. The site has a free service that allows the creation of up to six mind maps, which can be collaboratively shared. A premium version is very reasonable—less than $5 per month—and allows for an unlimited number of maps. The application is simple to use, providing a number of keyboard shortcuts as well as drag-and-drop capability. MindMeister, like other Web-based services, also provides a publishing option.

Publishing a file provides a global audience for your students and is a great way to share and discover new ideas. While a published mind map becomes open to searches and requires no password to view, editing still requires a user ID and sharing privileges on the document.

Mindomo, another web-based mind mapping service, offers both free and reasonably-priced premium subscriptions and includes tips for using the software with students. It functions similar to MindMeister with keyboard shortcuts and drag-and-drop functionality. Mindomo allows users to upload images to a mind map, either directly or via a URL. Some features in Mindomo, however, are not quite as intuitive as MindMeister. For example, sharing with Mindomo requires that the user know the username of the person they are sharing with, while MindMeister uses email addresses to invite non-registered users.

While all web-based applications allow you to change fonts, styles, colors, and the format of your mind map, their options are considerably more limited compared to software geared specifically toward K–12 students such as Inspiration. There are also no educational templates (such as Venn diagrams or cause-and-effect templates) available online. But web tools do provide a viable alternative for schools with limited funds, as well as the invaluable features of portability and collaboration. Check out these powerful tools and start connecting those thoughts.

Author Information
Both educators with Killeen Independent School District in central Texas, Anna Adam and Helen Mowers are the creators of the podcast series Tech Chick Tips.

Source: School Library Journal