Create Inspiring Lessons


Over the past several years, many teachers have discovered the power of using concept-mapping software and graphic organizers to help students to organize ideas, formulate hypotheses, or outline writing tasks. Inspiration software is perhaps the most familiar application in this category, especially in middle and high school classrooms, while Kidspiration has become quite popular in elementary classrooms due to the large and colorful clip art galleries. What teachers may not know is that concept-mapping software can also be used to create rich interactive projects and group activities infused with digital video and image files from the unitedstreaming site.  Here are some ideas to start with:

Cooperative Learning Groups:  Begin by creating a concept map that is centered on the topics you want your students to explore in groups. Next, download the unitedstreaming clips and digital images that you want students to view while in their groups and save them in the same folder in which you saved the Inspiration file. Finally, use the hyperlink tool on the toolbar to link selected words or objects in the concept map to the corresponding digital resources. When you load your completed project folders on the computers your students will use, you have a powerful start to a cooperative jigsaw activity. Divide your students into groups, direct each student to a specified work station to be shared with representatives from other learning groups, and encourage them to use your materials to learn as much as they can about the specified topic or concept. When they return to their home stations, each student brings information acquired from that learning station–one piece of the “puzzle” to be discussed and compared with information shared by each of the other members of the group.

Student Presentations: Most concept-mapping software applications are easy to learn and use, and that opens up possibilities for use by students as they create presentations for classmates. You might consider downloading a collection of video clips and relevant images from the unitedstreaming site and store them on shared network servers, hard drives on classroom computers, or digital storage media such as CDs, DVDs, or USB flash drives so that students have access to them as they build their presentations. If you are able to provide a wide enough variety of resources, you will create a true constructivist environment in which you empower students to make decisions about the materials they choose and the ways that they organize their ideas to share with classmates.

Student Centers and Stations: In those classroom situations where LCD projectors or other large screen presentation options are not available, many teachers have discovered that interactive projects that they create work very well when they save them for student use on the computer stations or “centers” in the classroom, computers in labs or Media Centers, or on laptops that are brought into the room. With the use of concept-mapping software with hyperlinking capabilities, you can turn a diagram or a chart into an interactive menu of choices to guide your students as they study the resources you have organized for them.

A Free Alternative:  For those teachers who do not have access to Inspiration software, The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has created a concept-mapping application called Cmap that is available to download free of charge. It does not include the library of school-related clip art images that Inspiration users have come to expect, but Cmap does allow users to create hyperlinks to video clips, web sites, digital images, and other files. For more information, click this link to visit the web site for The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and click on the “Cmap Tools” link. For more information about this software, read the article that appeared in the July issue of eSchool News.

Graphic organizers and concept-mapping applications are flexible tools that can be used in a wide variety of ways in the classroom. We would love to hear back from you with details about the kinds of projects that you have created and the ways that you have been successful in infusing unitedstreaming digital resources into your projects.

Dick Marchessault


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