Eﬃciency of Concept Maps for the Educational
Reconstruction of the topic burning and
combustion for elementary school students
Nina Dunker, Barbara Moschner & Ilka Parchmann
University of Oldenburg
Today in many European Countries it is not any longer the question if children in
primary school are to learn science but how to learn science concepts eﬀectively and
lastingly. Most European curricula have integrated physical and chemical topics by now.
Developmental research studies (CAREY 2000; SODIAN 2002) and studies in the ﬁeld of
psychology (STERN et al. 2004) formed the basis for this, because they show impressively
that children are cognitively able to grasp these alleged abstract concepts and general
perspectives which was long time doubted. In the past, the method of Concept Mapping has
been proofed to be very eﬀective for adult learners (JUENGST 1995; BERND et al. 2000)
as well as for the use of learning strategies (FISCHER & MANDL, 2000) and diagnostical
knowledge research (STRACKE, 2003; WEBER & SCHUMANN, 2000). According to this
the research questions focused on:
1. How can the topic burning and combustion be structured for elementary school
2. Can children learn more eﬃcient by using networking learning methods such as
Therefore three diﬀerent aspects were investigated:
• By using qualitative methods the students’ preconceptions of the topic burning and
combustion have been identiﬁed.
• By using qualitative methods experts identiﬁed the scientiﬁc (chemical) matter of
the topic burning and combustion.
• By using quantitative methods the eﬃciency of Concept Mapping for learning the
matter burning and combustion has been evaluated.
All three parts of the study and their inﬂuence on the Educational Structuration are
described in detail below.
1 Students’ preconceptions of the topic burning and com-
The Concept Maps of 92 elementary school students at the age of 10 have been evaluated
qualitatively. All propositions (a proposition consists of two concepts linked by a labeled
relation) were analysed for their special content. Over all 118 concepts were counted and
9 diﬀerent dimensions could be identiﬁed:
Scientiﬁc concepts: The most prominent concepts were wood as an example for a com-
bustible material, which makes 24% of all scientiﬁc concepts and therefore is one of the
most prominent concepts and water as a solution for extinguishing a ﬁre which was named
25 times and makes 21% of all scientiﬁc concepts. A lot of other examples for a burning
material were also named (paper, cole and hay), but surprisingly the candle or the burnt
wax was only named three times. Even two children noticed that a ﬁre needs a tempera-
ture for burning and 12 named a source of ignition like the lighter or matches.
Sensitive perception: The most frequently named sensitive perception was ﬁre is hot
(named 55 times). 9 times the generated heat was mentioned.
Destruction and dangerousness: The most important thing the students named under
this aspect was that ﬁre is dangerous not can be dangerous if handled wrongly. They also
mentioned ﬁre to be deathly.
Description of the phenomena: Very rarely the students knew that a ﬁre has a ﬂame
(named 21 times) and smoke occurs (named 23 times).
Own experiences: What is outstanding within this class is the experience of getting
Aesthetic dimensions: Students often described the ﬁre with certain qualities of color
Institution ﬁre station: Almost all students named the ﬁre station and their responsi-
bility for extinguishing ﬁres.
Word associations: Special german words are mentioned, but rarely.
Historic dimension: Twice the invention of ﬁre by the prehistoric men was mapped.
It is not remarkable that elementary school students have more everyday concepts than
scientiﬁc concepts. What is surprisingly, but is well compliant to other research ﬁndings
(PRIETO 1992; RAHAYU 1999) is the fact that there is a dominance of concepts where
ﬁre is describe as being dangerous and destructive. These concepts even outweigh concepts
that are based on own experiences. Working with scientiﬁc experiments can help to ﬁll the
gap of own experiences and can also inﬂuence the strong believe that ﬁre is dangerous.
Maybe making experiments can even help regarding ﬁre less dangerous but to be handled
well and that it requires a certain carefulness.
2 Identifying scientiﬁc matter of the topic burning and com-
bustion by interviewing experts
The elementarisation of scientiﬁc matter, which is in this case the topic burning and
combustion, marks one of the important aspects within the model of Educational Recon-
struction (Kattmann et al. 1997).This model forms the foundation of the whole study.
To identify concepts that are relevant for elementary school students four experts have
been interviewed. These expert all have a scientiﬁc background and have developed dif-
ferent educational submissions for elementary school students for the topic burning and
The guidelines for the interviews referred to:
• What aspects can cause problems for younger learners?
The experts pointed out that the scientiﬁc concept of the state of aggregation causes
problems because of its diﬃculty. The students should experience this concept in
diﬀerent other situations before transferring it to understand burning processes.
The experimental samples to acquire deeper understanding are to be chosen well.
Also the temperature of inﬂammability was named by the experts to be a rather
diﬃcult concept to understand for young learners. There are several possibilities to
show in an experiment this special need for a combustion, but it is not very common
to do them. The concept of the surface and the degree of dispersion of a combustible
material causes great problems for young learners because it is hard to reconstruct
and hard to transfer.
• What scientiﬁc concepts should be specially integrated to help children understand
these abstract ideas of the topic?
The experts were discordant. Some regarded the level of particles as helpful to explain
burning processes others argued against it, because of its abstractness. They agreed
that CO2 as a product of combustion should be targeted in school lessons.
• What aspects are relevant for a educational structuration?
All experts argued for the idea that the three conditions of burning should be oﬀered
to learners with diﬀerent possibilities of transfer. They also meant that the specialty
of the combustible material should get more into focus as well as their similarities in
the process of burning.The experts all suggested to be aware that lasting concepts
need time to develop.
3 The eﬃciency of Concept Mapping
Design of the study: By the help of the CPM-Test (Coloured Progessive Matrices by Ra-
ven) the students’ cognitive abilities were investigated. In form of inquiry learning, the
students acquired the underlying chemical concepts of the topic which was embedded in
an excursion to the chemical laboratory („CHEMOL“) at the University of Oldenburg.
Subsequent to this, two homogeneous groups recorded their knowledge by either taking
traditional linear notes (group A) or building up a Concept Map (group B). A follow-up
knowledge test two weeks later was handed out to show the students overall knowledge.
Data analysis: A quantitative evaluation showed which of the two groups, the linear-notes-
group (A) or the Concept-Mapping-group (B), has learned more eﬀectively than the other
group. Therefore all data have been investigated with a speciﬁc score-code: In the linear
notes group all concepts have been counted, then the occurring misconceptions have been
pointed out and at last the scientiﬁc concepts, which were taught in the intervention, have
been counted. The same has been done for the Concept Mapping group. These results
have been compared with the data collected from the knowledge test.
Findings: The most outstanding results were the fact that the amount of used scientiﬁc
concepts within the Concept Maps have a positive eﬀect on the score of the knowledge-test
(r=.30*,N=48). And surprisingly the level of networking within the Concept Maps has a
positive eﬀect on the score of the knowledge test (r=.80**,N=17). While the results also
show that the level of cognitive ability of the students has no inﬂuence on the possibility
to learn eﬀectively with the method of concept mapping it can be used in educational
surroundings to emphasis the scientiﬁc concepts and their function for burning processes.
The degree of deeper understanding can be promoted through a directed use of certain
concepts and the intention of maximum linking. How to force those processes without
disturbing the process of construct knowledge is not yet deﬁned.
4 Indications for the Educational Structuration of the mat-
ter burning and combustion?
The investigation of the students preconceptions brought up several hints to tie up to.
Together with the predictions of the experts the aim is to ﬁnd guidelines for the work
with elementary school students where their special pre-knowledge is to be considered
and included into the didactic requirements given by the experts. The method of Concept
Mapping will form the promoter for learning concepts more eﬃcient and therefore more
lasting. The combination of all three parts of the study as well as the guidelines for the
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CvO University of Oldenburg