It's all about energy

Concept mapping can help students organise and visualise abstract concepts while teachers can formatively assess their understanding of the topic.


 Andreanna Koufou explains how to use digital concept mapping in various phases of a course about energy for students to reflect on their knowledge before, during and after teaching, and for teachers to collect individual and collaborative data of student’s understanding of concepts. This allows to design a course modelled on specific students, adapt teaching goals if needed, and focus more deeply on areas of misconceptions revealed by the concept maps.


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Concept mapping, mind-mapping, sustainable energy, physics

Quick reference
Assess students’ concept mapping about the notion of energy
1 device/student or computer lab
Implementation level
Target group age
11 - 15
Digital tools
DFA tool
Concept mapping
4 sessions


Students can learn abstract concepts more easily by looking at their relation to other concepts and visualising them. This is what concept mapping is about: to simplify and organise ideas through visual representations. It is a skill that will be valuable for a student’s entire life, as they are professionally used also by engineers, technical writers as well as program developers. However, concept maps can also be a great formative assessment tool for teachers because they provide a visual sketch of the students’ way of thinking.

Teachers can use concept mapping in any subject. Here, Dr. Andreanna Koufou explains how it can be used in Physics with the concept of “energy”. In the context of today’s concern to find sustainable energy sources and tackling climate change, this topic can be very engaging for students, because it connects the subject of physics to a real-world problem. 

Concept mapping has numerous benefits for students. Firstly, it can help them learn how to brainstorm: Students can connect energy to various ways of producing it, e.g., nuclear fusion power and wind turbines. Secondly, it can help students with connecting what they already know about energy to new knowledge. For instance, a student can first write down that smartphones can be charged through pedalling as seen often in airports or shopping malls. Then the student can connect this to kinetic energy and then other examples such as the windmill. Thirdly, it can give the teacher or classmates a picture of the student’s understanding. Thanks to the organised, visual nature of concept maps, the teacher can use them for formative assessment.

The activity

Dr. Andreanna Koufou describes a generic methodology of formative assessment using digital concept mapping, applied to the subject of Physics. This practice uses digital concept mapping in various phases of the course for students to reflect on their knowledge before, during and after teaching, and for teachers to collect individual and collaborative data of students’ structure. This allows to design a course that focus more deeply on areas of misconceptions revealed by the concept maps (Figure 1).

In this practice, the energy topic basically consists of 4 parts: (1) sources and storage; (2) forms and conversion; (3) degradation and overuse; (4) fair use and environmentally friendly practices. These parts can be implemented separately in any sequence, and the teacher has the freedom to skip parts or reduce the time needed. 

  • Learn that energy causes every change in nature.
  • Recognise and name the sources of energy.
  • Distinguish renewable from nonrenewable sources.
  • Learn that energy sources are simultaneously energy storages.
  • Learn about all forms of energy and its conversion.
  • Learn about energy’ s degradation
  • Learn about the environmental benefits of the use of renewable energy sources.
  • Learn about the negative environmental impact of the overuse of energy.
  • Be able to suggest environmentally friendly tactics and to adopt them in the future.
  • Consider plants as living organisms.
  • Recognise that all living organisms need energy.


A. Conceptual representations compatible with the scientific modelB. Lack of conceptual representations (No evidence of construction) about:C. Misconceptions


  • A1. has various forms
  • A2. has various sources
  • A3. has environmental effects
  • A4. is useful for human life
  • A5. is useful for living organisms
    • B1. What energy is
    • B2. Conversion of energy
    • B3. Sources=storage
    • B4. Renewable and non-renewable sources degradation
    • B5. Environmental problems from the overuse of energy
    • B6. Environmentally friendly use
    • C1. Energy is its sources or its forms or movement or power of fuel
    • C2. Source and storage are not the same
    • C3. Plants are not living organisms

    Figure 1 Before teaching, students are asked to construct a concept map on “energy”, to assess their conceptual representations. The figure presents the results. The goal is set depending on the conceptual representations and the misconceptions.

    Students start by reflecting on what they already know about the concept of energy before the lesson. They individually create a concept map. Andreanna suggests following an open technique for the map construction. “We just explain every student the main concept “energy” and let them construct a model”. Students might also need some help with learning to use the concept map software. 

    The table shows an example where students had already considerable prior knowledge, due to their age and grade. In case that a student does not have prior knowledge, an incorrect or insufficient map is also a good feedback for the teacher. The goal is to create cognitive conflict. That is, the teacher makes students identify their initial knowledge (preconception) then confronts students with information that conflicts with their knowledge. When students experience this conflict, they can get more engaged in the topic.

    Andreanna uses ModellingSpace, a free and easy tool developed by the University of Patras. However, there are many other free alternatives (e.g., Mindmup and Mindmaps). Students can connect keywords to each other, but they can also use images to visually represent some concepts.

    After individual work, students form groups of four and follow the same procedure cooperatively. Andreanna is interested in whether and how the individual construction influences the collaborative work and vice versa. On one hand, the teacher collects the maps and gains a full view of the knowledge background of the students. On the other hand, the teacher identifies the possible influence of the group construction on the individual construction. The teacher examines the concepts that students add and the way in which they connect them with the main energy concept. Teachers can then address the misconceptions by asking students to watch some videos, search sources on the internet, play educational games about energy or prepare a debate. Students then reconstruct their initial digital concept map, both individually and collaboratively. The class works digitally; students work on their previously stored maps and always within the same groups.

    The data from the maps help the teacher set realistic goals, adapted to the needs of specific students. What is crucial is that teachers assess every student and every group in real time and can adjust teaching properly for all students to construct knowledge.
    The teacher can plan multiple concept mapping exercises periodically, until the learning goals have been reached. The teacher keeps collecting data as described and keeps establishing and readapting teaching strategies and goals if needed.

    Students are encouraged to keep working on their initial map, reconstructing it in their own time, after the end of the course. The practice takes place in the classroom, but if the teacher decides so, it is possible e.g., for an energy expert to participate in a class discussion via online conferencing or a school visit.

    Finally, the energy concept maps can be published and presented in various forms (posters, image on webpage, etc.) either within the classroom or at school level. Students can decide what their final product will be. Also, it will be valuable for the students to include all stages of concept map creation in the final product to show how their thinking has changed (e.g. on an e-portfolio). Students can take screenshots of their concept maps for this. 

    Figure 2 An example of a concept mapping before (left) and after (right) the lesson. The misconception is that the student identifies energy with its forms. The new map reveals lack of construction about renewable/non-renewable sources, although the student had participated in relevant activities. This fact highlights that the teacher must e.g., add more activities or other learning strategies to help the student’s construction.

    This scenario could be implemented both online and in hybrid contexts. When working in groups students can be provided with a concept map tool that allows collaborative work. They can use a shared document to discuss individual concept maps. The links to individual concept maps will need to be shared in this document. The teacher can provide help with the task through a videoconference. Then students can also work in breakout rooms. Experts can be invited to join a videoconference clarify the topic, depending on the phase of the learning process.

    Outcome and lessons learned

    The collected data are extraordinary because they effortlessly reveal the learning status of students. During the implementation, students construct knowledge and sometimes they might fail in doing so. However, their maps reveal misunderstandings or misconceptions, making it easy to intervene. 

    Students are influenced by the process; they might completely reformulate their maps or be influenced by their group while reconstructing their individual map, in a way that reflects the misconception of their group. The teacher can deal with this during the course to achieve better results.

    The digital concept mapping method has been successfully tried by many teachers in Greece. “I would like to use it in various fields and age groups in the future” says Andreanna who is very happy with the impact. “I would also like to use it with various concept mapping software to evaluate the influence of other digital tools.”

    Resources used