- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2005

PENSACOLA, Fla. - A research institute is taking software designed in part to preserve scientists’ knowledge and giving it to schools around the world as a tool to help children learn.

The software was designed literally to map out what scientists know in diagram form. The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola is providing the concept-mapping software to schools and is training teachers in Panama, the first country adopting Cmaps nationwide.

Cmaps can be used to assess student knowledge, encourage thinking and problem solving instead of rote learning, organize information for writing projects and help teachers write new curricula.

“We need to move education from a memorizing system and repetitive system to a dynamic system,” said Gaspar Tarte, who is spearheading education reform in Panama as the country’s secretary of governmental innovation.

“We would like to use tools and a methodology that help children construct knowledge,” Mr. Tarte said. “Concept maps was the best tool that we found.”

A Cmap is a series of concepts, usually nouns, linked by phrases or verbs. Alberto Canas, the institute’s associate director and leading Cmap researcher, cites a simple Cmap on birds as an example.

One of several lines radiating from the main concept — “birds” — is labeled “have” and links it to such attributes as “beaks,” “hollow bones” and “feathers.” Another line is labeled “lays” and connects “birds” with “eggs.”

“It’s really saying ‘birds lay eggs’ — that’s a proposition — ‘birds have beaks,’ ‘birds have hollow bones,’” Mr. Canas said. “So, it’s knowledge expressed as propositions.”

Mr. Canas, a native of Costa Rica, was a consultant to Panama’s government in the 1990s, but the nation did not embrace Cmaps until President Martin Torrijos, a Texas A&M University economics graduate, took office last year. Concept mapping now is part of a wider initiative to bring schools into the information age. The software can be downloaded free for noncommercial use at https://cmap.ihmc.us.

“‘Get Connected’ is the name of the project,” Mr. Tarte said. “We would like to include at least 1,000 schools in the project in the next five years; connect 1,000 schools to the Internet.”

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