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Use mind maps to reinforce flipped learning

By Trang Phan
August 19, 2015
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The flipped classroom, where students are expected to watch a video at home and do the “homework” assignment in class, can be as nonproductive as an assignment to read Chapter 5 at home if a student is not engaged with the video, interacting with it and learning from it.

Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann are pioneers in flipped learning. In their science classes, students watch podcasts of the lectures as homework, then spend their class time applying what they learned in their lab work. These students can watch, pause, rewind and replay the lectures and instructions many times at home, depending on what they need. Sams defined his method of flipping the classroom as taking direct instruction that has been traditionally given as a lecture in class, shipping that instruction out of class time and using the reclaimed class time more wisely to meet the needs of the students.

In Stacey Roshan’s AP Calculus class at Bullis private high school in Maryland, the flipped learning model is slightly different. Besides learning the material at home from Roshan’s prerecorded video lectures, her students are required to work collaboratively with peers to solve calculus problems in class. To do so, they need to prepare notes as they watch the videos at home and enter class with some degree of mastery of the material.

How to make sure students learn

Flipping the classroom promotes independent learning, personalizes instruction and encourages collaboration among students. Yet for a flipped classroom to work, the students need to learn the material at home. So the question is: How do you make sure your students are studying effectively at home and learning the material on their own?

The article “How and (Why) to Flip Your Classroom,” by Chuck Cohn proposes three tricks to call for students’ full participation:

  • Incorporate interactive quizzes in online videos.
  • Implement in-class assessments.
  • Create a graded online discussion forum.

These strategies help encourage student participation and track their performance. But this approach won’t necessarily work for students who don’t care about grades or who have test anxiety.

The question then the challenge becomes ensuring students’ participation and encouraging content exploration beyond the test boundaries in a flipped classroom. How can teachers be sure their students are really interacting with the materials? And what tools can help?

Mind mapping to empower students’ studying

Mind mapping, which uses a diagram to connect information around a central topic, is one of the best strategies for capturing and presenting thoughts in a visual format.

How does it work? Picture a tree. See the proximity of the branches to the trunk. Visualize how the branches can intertwine with one another. A mind map is like that tree, with a main subject as the trunk and subtopics or related ideas for branches. Take a look at the sample mind map below to see what I mean.


Suppose your students need to learn the basic steps to apply to a U.S. college or university. Which do you think the students will enjoy more — grabbing the idea from the diagram above or reading a passage about the steps?

A mind map offers learners an overview of information using mostly graphics and just a few words. Imagine your students want to find out whether “communicating with a program coordinator” is one of the application steps and how it is related to other steps in the procedure. Looking at a graphic map will make it so much easier to find the step (Step 4, program coordinator) and the related ideas around it (its connections to steps 1, 2, 3 and 5).

For more complicated concepts, you could branch out beyond the tree format to create a “jungle” map with many interlocking vines.

A mind map is a powerful search tool not only for what it shows, but also for what it leaves out. It doesn’t oversimplify or devalue significant points, but it tends to hide decorative, distracting and unimportant details, leaving only the vivid mental images. In other words, mind mapping is not only an effective zoom-out tool for an overall picture but also a powerful zoom-in tool for great details.

Mind mapping has widely proved itself as a powerful brainstorming and knowledge retention tool. Mind maps intuitively reflect the way the brain thinks: in a nonlinear manner. Ideas are interrelated, and they bounce off of each other. This practice of connection transformation is similar to what happens when the brain is immersed in engaging and experiential learning.

A mind map also serves as a powerful memory aid. Students will retain information better, and it will stay in the brain longer, if there are connections among ideas that the brain can make sense of. The graphic element of a mind map allows the brain to process concepts in the visual processing part of the brain in addition to the part that processes words, and that dual interaction reinforces the information that is retrieved.

Using mind maps in flipped learning

When today’s tech-savvy teachers flip their classrooms, they want to know that students are learning effectively at home. The key is motivating students to come to class with evidence of the learning they accomplished at home.

Mind mapping is one of the best tools to help students gain, retain and explore new knowledge during their home study periods. Best of all, it enables students to produce meaningful graphics that show evidence of their work.

I use, a free tool, as well as Inspiration, which is a paid tool. However, there are a lot of mind-mapping tools available that you can investigate before landing on the one that suits your needs.

I like because it’s easy for students to use. Once students create an account and sign in, they just click on "mind map" to map their ideas. The bubbles are color coded and can be further customized with the editor functions based on the users' needs. Students can create their mind map on any device, but I recommend using a computer, because the size of the screen makes it easier to view the whole picture.  

Students can create mind maps as they interact with video lectures, podcasts and other materials at home. When they bring their mind maps to class, the teacher can quickly assess how well they understand the content, which will help them determine which class activities would best fit their needs.

Flipped learning, when done right, should challenge students to learn independently, foster efficient use of class time, and boost students’ curiosity and exploration during their self-study outside the classroom. And flipped classroom proponents would probably agree that the best use of class time is when students work on the tasks that fit their level of understanding of the materials, receive support from the teacher on content clarification and build their interest to further explore the topic.

Mind maps facilitate all of these things, students like them, and they are easy for educators to find, use and teach students to use.

Trang Phan is finishing up her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at College of Education, University of Houston. She previously gained her master’s in English as a second language and taught ESL, undergraduate composition and linguistics for a few years. Her Ph.D. focus is on designing and evaluating online courses and methods of applying technologies to enhance students learning outcomes in online learning environment.