Learn the tool by using it. The "no-frills" simplicity of the maps is intentional. Students spend little time on learning to use them and quickly turn their attention to the complexities of the problem they are exploring. Teachers find that a short five-to-ten minute demonstration of creating factors and defining relationships followed by hands-on time building a sample map is sufficient preparation for first-time users. Students' natural trial-and-error tendencies will give them further confidence with the features of the tool.
Use the tool in groups—pairs are ideal. On the road to "making thinking visible," the tool makes thinking discussible. Because map building naturally elicits debate and discussion about what's on students' minds, the maps are, most importantly, for groups. Teachers find that pairs of students work best, with regular rotations between one at the keyboard and one keeping track of the entries.
Teachers also offer one important ground rule—both members of the team must 'own' the factors and relationships defined in the map. That is, each team member must be able to support the presence of a factor or relationship with evidence or reasoning. On occasion students will disagree about adding factors, reporting that a partner "won't let me add my factors!" Encourage them to first find factors that they can agree on, then to look for and discuss the evidence for those that they don't.
Not all work and discussion occurs at the computer. The mapping tool supports investigation that occurs in cycles of evidence gathering, map building, and reflecting. After building an initial map that taps students' prior or entry knowledge, students experiment or research to gather more data and evidence, and then return to revise and adjust their maps. Teachers report that journal reflections are essential to focus and refine work. Student pairs can end a map-revision session (developing new factors and relationships), print the revised map, and leave the computer to discuss and write a conclusion or summary for the day's work on a problem. Students also need time away from the computers to plan and carry out the next cycle of data gathering.
The teacher's task involves cycles of listening, questioning, and refocusing student work. This is a tool for reasoning based on measurable or observable evidence. A teacher's main job during map building sessions is to lead students to reconsider their thinking—each time refocusing their attention on the relationships among factors or weighing the evidence they have for a factor.
The teacher's dialogue with an investigation team includes such questions as:
The teacher prompts them again and again—for credibility of their evidence, or their reasoning in a relationship:
Guide students in distilling essential information in their maps. As investigations proceed and maps evolve, many students begin to collapse and categorize factors on their own. Other students need prompting to consider extraneous factors and conflicting relationships (for example, arrows going both ways). Some students maintain a "bone yard" of unused factors off to the side of their maps. It's valuable to discuss these irrelevant factors and confusing relationships with the map builders, encouraging them to distill the essential information to evidence-based relationships among factors.
Recognize when maps are done. Naturally, the complexity of student maps will vary widely—some students reach a finish point quickly on their own while others are never done, as if the goal is quantity of factors and a messy spiderweb of relationships. You will find that the lingering map builders begin to recycle old ideas—for example, adding 'new' factors that are new in name only (adding "boulders" or "pebbles" when "rocks" is already a factor). Remind them that simple maps can get the job done.