The effects of concept mapping and cooperative learning experiences on achievement, transfer problem solving ability, an...


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The effects of concept mapping and cooperative learning experiences on achievement, transfer problem solving ability, and attitudes toward the instructional experience of middle school science students
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viii, 189 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Penello, Henry
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Science -- Study and teaching   ( lcsh )
Middle school students -- Attitudes   ( lcsh )
Group work in education   ( lcsh )
Visual education   ( lcsh )
Performance in children   ( lcsh )
Problem solving   ( lcsh )
Curriculum and Instruction thesis Ph.D
Dissertations, Academic -- Curriculum and Instruction -- UF
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1993.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 182-187).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Henry Penello.
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University of Florida
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I wish to thank several people for their help and support in my

efforts to complete my doctoral program from 4000 miles away in the

Netherlands. My committee chairperson, Dr. Mary Budd Rowe,

provided inspiration with her ideas and simply by continuing her active

role as a leader in the field of science education. Dr. Pat Ashton and Dr.

Linda Cronin-Jones were very generous with their time editing my

lengthy manuscripts and putting me in the right direction when

improvements were needed. Dr. Roy Bolduc was always there with his

support and thoughtful input. His generous use of computer space when

it was needed is greatly appreciated. In particular, I would like to thank

Dr. Linda Crocker for giving hours of her precious time and helping me

to focus in on the necessary adjustments in the format and style of my


There were also many people on the other side of the Atlantic

Ocean who provided a great deal of support in my efforts to complete this

dissertation. The administrators and colleagues with whom I have spent

many years in education never hesitated to make sacrifices to help me

when it was needed. I am forever indebted to the 8th grade science

teacher, Bill Britt, who helped me conduct this study over two very hectic

months and contributed tremendous amounts of post-study time to help

me analyze the results.

There is no question that I would have never completed this

project without the support of my wife Marianne who time and again

read through materials, made suggestions for improvement, and

provided me with solitude when it was required. My daughter Jennifer

does not yet realize that she also helped me to achieve my goal simply

because I wanted her to be proud of her father.

Finally, completing this project from so far away was a major

undertaking complete with formidable barriers to overcome. There were

times when I was ready to give it up and use my spare moments for

something other than reading additional articles relevant to my study.

During these times, my thoughts turned to my mother and father and

how proud they would be if this project was completed. Throughout

their lifetimes, they have provided me with constant love and support

and I am very happy that I was able to share this moment with them.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS................................................... ii

ABSTRACT.......................... .......... ................................. vi


I INTRODUCTION...................... ......... ........................... 1

Statement of the Problem............................ ........................... 2
Hypotheses...................................................................... 3
Significance of the Study............................. .......................... 6
Concept Mapping Introduction..................... ...... .............. 9
Cooperative Learning Introduction...................... ................ 13

II REVIEW OF LITERATURE........... .................................... 20

Status of Concept Mapping Research.................... ....................... 21
Theoretical Basis for Concept Mapping..................... .............. 30
Status of Coop rative Learning Research............................................. 38
Theoretical Basis for Coperative Learning ........................................ 53

III PROCEDURES AND METHODS OF ANALYSIS............. ............... 57

Setting and Research Participants...................... ................... 57
Research Design............................ ...... ........ .... ....... 59
Description of Treatments...................... ......... ............... 61
Instrum entation.................................................................. .................. 63
Procedure............................................. 84
Data Collection and Scoring.......................... ........................ 91
Data Analysis............................................................... 97

IV RESULTS............................................................... 98

Examination of Pre-Treatment Status of Groups........................... 101
Analysis of Low-Level M easures...................... .... ................ .... 101
Analysis of High-Level Measures............................. ........... 107
Analysis of Attitudinal Measures....................................... ......... 119
Analysis of Scores From Concept Mapping Evaluation
Procedures.................................................................... .............. 122


Successful M apping...................................... ........ 137
Insufficient Basis for Controversy........................ ......... ... 144
Creative Representations of Conceptual Ideas................................. 146
Factors Affecting the Results................................................. 148
Suggestions For Further Research............................ ..... 158
C on clu sio n ............................................................................. ............. 161


A RESEARCH STUDY FLOW CHART............................................ 164
B COOPERATIVE GROUP EXPECTATIONS.............................. 167
C T-C H A R T............................................. ............................. ...................... 168
U N IT .................................... ........ .................. ................ .............. 169
BEH A V IO R U N IT..................................................... ................... 170
SOLIDS, LIQUIDS, AND GASES.............................................. 171
ATOMIC STRUCTURE............... ........................... 172
K EVALUATION CHART FOR VIDEO MEASURE........................ 178
L A N O V A D A TA ......................................... .......................................... 179
ANIMAL BEHAVIOR........................................ 181

R EFEREN C ES............................................. ....................................... 182

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH............................. .... 188

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Henry Penello

December 1993

Chair: Dr. M. B. Rowe
Cochair: Dr. Linda Cronin-Jones
Major Department: Instruction and Curriculum

The purpose of this study was to compare the effects on science

achievement, transfer problem solving ability, and attitudes toward the

instructional experience for students using concept mapping, cooperative

learning, and a combination of concept mapping and cooperative learning

in a unit of study. A concept map is a two-dimensional, visual representation

of a body of knowledge. Proficiency in concept map construction fosters

meaningful learning and positive attitudes toward school and subject.

Cooperative learning strategies are structuring techniques for promoting

productive student-student interaction in the classroom by creating a

situation where each student's success is dependent upon the success of all

group members. This study was an investigation of the possibility that a

cooperative learning structure can provide the support necessary for middle

school science students to experience success with concept mapping.

In this 6-week study, intact classes of middle school science students

constructing concept maps in cooperative learning groups were compared

with classes constructing concept maps independently and with classes

working cooperatively without concept mapping. At the end of one 3-week

unit of study in science, and again at the end of a second 3-week unit, selected

measures of science achievement and transfer problem solving ability were

administered to all students to evaluate the effects of the different classroom

structures on these dependent variables. A measure of attitudes toward the

instructional experience was administered once when both 3-week units were


Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) conducted for all content units on

pretest scores indicated that the treatment groups were generally equivalent

on these variables before treatment began. Analyses of covariance

(ANCOVAs) indicated no significant overall effects of treatment or gender,

but inspection for effects of gender-by-treatment interaction showed that

males performed better than females on Genetics measures of science

achievement and transfer problem solving ability, and females performed

better than males on an Atomic Structure measure of transfer problem


Concept maps were scored using a concept mapping evaluation

procedure established for this study. Comparative analysis revealed that

concept maps constructed in cooperative learning groups were less likely to

have unconnected concepts or unlabelled propositions. They were less likely

to contain errors in content, have concepts out of an acceptable hierarchical

order, or lack logical connections. When examined for readability, maps

constructed cooperatively were easier to follow than maps constructed

individually, suggesting a better overall understanding of unit concepts.


Gains in content acquisition, problem solving ability, and attitudes

toward science and the instructional experience have been attributed to

students using either the metacognitive tool of concept mapping (Novak,

Gowin, & Johansen, 1983) or the organizational structure of a cooperative

group (Cohen, 1986; Johnson & Johnson, 1989). The many forms of

cooperative learning have enjoyed considerable success in producing

academic and social growth, but the concept mapping technique has not

been as successful. In this study, the possibility that a cooperative

learning structure can provide the support necessary for middle school

science students to experience success with concept mapping is


Although the possible benefits of constructing concept maps in

cooperative structures have been briefly discussed in the literature

(Novak & Gowin, 1984), studies investigating the effects of their

combined use have rarely been conducted (Okebukola & Jegede, 1988).

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects on science

achievement, transfer problem solving ability, and attitudes toward the

instructional experience for students using both concept mapping and

cooperative learning simultaneously for a particular unit of study.

The methodology employed for this research study had the

following components: (a) three sections each of 7th- and 8th-grade

science classes in an overseas American middle school; (b) two

experienced science teachers, one per grade level, following a consistent

script and procedure whenever possible; (c) selected units of study

appropriate for each grade level with related textual materials; and (d)

measures of recall or low-level science content knowledge, measures of

high-level (application or above) transfer problem solving ability in

science, and measures of attitudes toward the instructional experience

(one instrument for concept mapping and another for cooperative

learning). For each grade level, students in one section constructed

concept maps of the material independently to help master unit content,

students in a second section covered the material in cooperative groups

without concept mapping, and students in a third section constructed

concept maps of the material in cooperative learning groups.

The remainder of this introduction includes information about

the purpose, hypotheses, and significance of this research study.

Introductory information about concept mapping and cooperative

learning is also included.

Statement of the Problem

Research findings by Novak and others support the view that

proficiency in concept map construction fosters meaningful learning,

metacognition, and positive feelings about school and subject (Novak &

Gowin, 1984). However, mastery of the concept mapping technique has

not always been achieved, and students from all ability levels have

encountered difficulties while attempting to become proficient in concept

map construction (Lehman, Carter, & Kahle, 1985; Novak et al., 1983).

This was an investigation of the possibility that a cooperative

learning structure would provide the support and motivation necessary

to ensure that students become proficient in, and therefore derive the

maximum benefit from, concept map construction. The fact that concept

mapping has been described as a tool that can stimulate academic

controversy (Novak & Gowin, 1984) should facilitate this association

with cooperative learning procedures, often considered particularly

successful when issues discussed have reached the level of controversy

(Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1987).


According to Ausubel (1968), meaningful learning occurs when

new information is assimilated and incorporated into an individual's

existing cognitive structure. Concept mapping (Novak, 1981) is a

learning heuristic that may help students achieve meaningful conceptual

growth. It is hypothesized that students constructing concept maps in

cooperative learning groups are more likely to achieve mastery in

concept map construction and derive the benefits of learning

meaningfully than are students constructing concept maps

independently or students working in cooperative learning groups

without concept mapping. More precise null hypotheses have been

formulated on the basis of past experiments.

Hypothesis 1. There is no significant difference among the mean

achievement scores on measures of recall or low-level science content

knowledge for students constructing concept maps in cooperative

learning groups, students constructing concept maps independently, or

students working in cooperative learning groups without concept


Hypothesis 2. There is no significant difference among the mean

achievement scores on measures of high-level transfer problem solving

ability in science for students constructing concept maps in cooperative

learning groups, students constructing concept maps independently, or

students working in cooperative learning groups without concept


Hypothesis 3. There is no significant difference among the mean

scores on measures of attitudes toward the learning activity (one

attitudinal measure for concept mapping and another for cooperative

learning) for students constructing concept maps in cooperative learning

groups, students constructing concept maps independently, or students

working in cooperative learning groups without concept mapping.

The treatment variables for these hypotheses were (a) the grouping

formats of the students for the learning exercise, either individually or

cooperatively and (b) the use or nonuse of concept mapping to help

integrate new information into existing cognitive structures. The output

variables considered were (a) scores on commercial measures of recall or

low-level science achievement, (b) scores on commercial or researcher-

constructed measures of high-level transfer problem solving ability in

science, and (c) results on attitudinal measures of concept mapping or

cooperative learning.

It was hypothesized that (a) students constructing concept maps in

cooperative groups were more likely to experience success with concept

map construction as a result of the academic support, verbal interaction,

and elements of positive interdependence provided by the cooperative

arrangement, (b) students working cooperatively but without mapping

would not benefit from discussions of conceptual relationships

stimulated by the visual representation provided by a concept map, and

(c) students constructing concept maps independently would not receive

peer support or input and thus were less likely to discover conceptual

relationships that could contribute to academic achievement.

If it is true that successful construction of a concept map for a

particular topic can be interpreted as evidence of higher order

meaningful learning, then students successfully using this heuristic

should perform better on cognitive measures of that topic than students

who are not using the technique successfully or at all. In addition, they

should be able to transform this new knowledge and apply it creatively in

novel problem solving situations. Finally, if concept mapping can help a

student visualize meaningful conceptual growth and metalearning, then

success with this heuristic should create positive feelings about the

learning experience for a particular topic.

Controls for this study included the following: (a) one science

teacher per grade level following a script and specific procedures for

monitoring individual and group work, (b) uniform subject matter

within each grade level, (c) daily observations by this researcher of in-

progress study implementation, (d) the use of protests to evaluate prior

knowledge of the science topic, and (e) a uniform system for evaluating

the measures of science content, transfer problem solving ability, and

attitudes toward the learning experience at both grade levels.

Significance of the Study

The concept mapping heuristic is derived from Ausubel's (1968)

assimilation theory of cognitive learning and focuses on the central role

that previously learned concepts play in the acquisition of knowledge

and interpretation of events or objects. The extent to which new

knowledge relates to these prior concepts or experiences determines

whether it will be assimilated meaningfully into cognitive structure.

If concept mapping is a practical application of Ausubel's theory,

success with this heuristic could be interpreted as evidence of higher

order meaningful learning, that is, learning categorized at the

application, synthesis, and evaluation levels of the type described by

Bloom (1956). In addition, students who have learned a topic

meaningfully, through hierarchical organization of concepts, should be

able to transform this new knowledge and apply it creatively in novel

situations (Novak & Gowin, 1984).

Students have not always successfully mastered the concept

mapping technique. In a study involving middle school science classes,

nearly half of the students were not successful in using the concept

mapping strategy, and student successes and failures were evident in

both the highest and lowest quartiles of ability as indicated by

standardized achievement test scores (Novak et al., 1983). Other

researchers have also reported mixed findings regarding the claim that

concept mapping fosters cognitive growth (Arnaudin, Mintzes, Dunn, &

Shafer, 1984; Lehman et al., 1985).

A number of reasons have been suggested to explain the

difficulties students and teachers have experienced while involved in

concept map construction. The process of learning material

meaningfully may be a problem for students and teachers who have

spent a large portion of their time in school involved in rote learning.

Good concept maps take time and effort to construct, and both students

and teachers may prefer to use more familiar learning methods that they

have found effective (Novak, 1990). In addition, they may be threatened

by the idea of sharing a visual representation of what they know or do

not know about a particular subject with other individuals (Arnaudin et

al., 1984).

Several references are made in the literature regarding the benefits

of constructing concept maps in groups (Ault, 1985; Cohen, 1987; Novak

& Gowin, 1984), but rarely have steps been taken to organize these groups

cooperatively (Okebukola & Jegede, 1988). Cooperative learning success

is attributed to the high levels of student-student interaction that occur as

a result of structuring positive interdependence, individual

accountability, face-to-face interaction, heterogeneous grouping, and the

development of interpersonal skills. This positive student-student

interaction in turn provides the peer support and encouragement that

could ensure concept mapping success (Cohen, 1986; Johnson et al., 1986;

Slavin, 1983).

Cooperative learning has been particularly effective for discussing

controversial issues. The two dimensional organization of a concept

map provides an ideal format for encouraging low-level controversy as

conceptual ideas are visualized, constructed, and criticized. It has been

suggested that concept maps are well-suited for sharing and negotiating

meanings (Novak & Gowin, 1984).

Positive results of this study could contribute to the solution of

practical problems faced by educators and students with respect to concept

map instruction, construction, and evaluation. If this study supports the

claim that concept mapping proficiency can help a student learn how to

learn meaningfully and that concept mapping success can be enhanced

through application of the interactive elements of cooperative grouping,

it would have important applications.

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping (Novak, 1981) is a strategy designed to help

students and educators visualize conceptual meanings from a body of

learning material or an individual's cognitive structure. A concept map

can be considered a representation of meaning or an ideational

framework for a specific domain of knowledge in a particular context

(Novak, 1990). The philosophical basis for this heuristic device is that

concepts and propositions composed of concepts are the central elements

in the structure of knowledge and the construction of meaning (Novak

& Gowin, 1984). Based upon Ausubel's (1978) assimilation theory of

cognitive learning, concept mapping was originally conceived as a

method for investigating a student's ability to solve problems in science.

It was also used for organizing interview data in studies investigating

changes in conceptual understanding over time (Ault, Novak, & Gowin,


Ausubel's theory stresses the central role that previously learned

concepts play in the acquisition of knowledge and the interpretation of

events or objects. These prior concepts form the individual's framework

of conceptual interrelationships regarding a particular topic and are a

result of his/her idiosyncratic experiences with that topic.

The extent to which new information relates to these prior

concepts or experiences determines whether it will be assimilated as rote

or meaningful learning (Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian, 1978).

Meaningful learning occurs when a person consciously and explicitly ties

new knowledge to relevant concepts or propositions he/she already

possesses. In rote learning, new knowledge is arbitrarily introduced into

cognitive structure.

Concept mapping involves identifying the concepts in a body of

knowledge, organizing them into a hierarchy, and then labeling the

relationships between these concepts on connecting lines. Novak and

Gowin (1984) suggested that these concepts and the hierarchical

relationships between them form a visual approximation of the learner's

cognitive structure for that topic. The recommended hierarchical

organization of a concept map places the most general, most inclusive

concepts at the top with the more specific, less generalized concepts

arranged appropriately below (Novak et al., 1983). This conception of

psychological organization is based upon Ausubel's claim that

meaningful learning occurs when new information is subsumed under

previously learned concepts.

Concepts represented on a concept map are generally enclosed in

rectangles or ovals with labeled lines connecting these enclosures. The

labeled lines represent explicit relationships between the connected

concepts (Novak, 1981). The simplest concept map would include two

concepts linked by a labeled connecting line forming a unit referred to as

a proposition (Novak & Gowin, 1984), as shown in Fig. 1-1.





Figure 1-1. A single propositional unit formed by two concepts and a
labeled relationship.

Propositions can be organized from general to specific in a

hierarchy, or laterally, connecting related concepts from different

hierarchical portions of the map. These labeled horizontal propositions

or "cross-links" show additional interrelationships and result in a

construction that Novak interprets as a two-dimensional representation

of a unit of knowledge. As additional concepts are included in the

learning material, the concept map grows into an increasingly complex

ending with


Figure 1-2. A concept map summarizing the main elements of concept mapping
and cooperative learning.

structure representing an approximate externalization of the concepts

and propositions that make up a topic (Novak & Gowin, 1984)

(see Fig. 1-2).

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning strategies are structuring techniques for

promoting and increasing productive student-student interaction in the

classroom. The Learning Together approach of David and Roger

Johnson (1991), the Student Team Learning methods developed by

Robert Slavin (1983) and others at The Johns Hopkins University, and

Elizabeth Cohen's (1986) Heterogeneous Classroom Strategies are among

the most established programs of cooperative learning currently in use.

Although there are differences among these various approaches,

important similarities exist. Cooperative learning activities should

include goal interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face

interaction, and group recognition for success. The proponents of these

programs advocate the formation and nurturing of social skills but offer

different views on the degree to which these skills affect successful group

performance. Heterogeneous group composition is usually preferred and

a criterion-referenced evaluation system is used.

The basic aim of cooperative learning is to maximize the

achievement of each student by creating a situation where student

success depends on the learning of other group members as well as the

individual's own learning. The format encourages students to work

together to succeed regardless of their ethnic background, gender, social

status, or ability level. In cooperative arrangements, students work with

small groups of peers rather than individually, receiving information

and feedback from peers as well as from teachers and curriculum

materials. The majority of research comparing student-student

interaction patterns indicates that students learn more effectively when

they work cooperatively (Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson, & Skon,

1981; Slavin, 1983).

Positive goal interdependence is a condition under which students

need each other to complete the group's task. A variety of tactics for

nurturing positive goal interdependence have been discussed in the

literature (Johnson et al., 1986). Usually achieved by the assignment of

some mutual, academic group goal, activities are structured so that all

members benefit if and only if each individual member masters, to a

predetermined degree, the content that the goal requires (Johnson &

Johnson, 1987; Slavin, 1983). Students work together to prepare for or

complete cooperative tasks ranging from long-term reports or projects to

regular, day-to-day class assignments and tests. The product may consist

of a single set of answers agreed upon by all group members,

accumulation of individual exam improvement points, or be based upon

the number of group members reaching a goal successfully. All members

of the group are evaluated on the quality of this product or work using

preset criteria.

Resource interdependence, role interdependence, and reward

interdependence are some of the most commonly used methods for

structuring positive goal interdependence. These approaches may be

used independently or in conjunction with others. They are an attempt

to create peer interaction and support for becoming academically

involved (Johnson et al., 1987). The greater the frequency of task-related,

student-student interaction, the greater the achievement gains can be

(Cohen, 1986).

Resource interdependence can be structured simply by distributing

a single copy of an informational packet to a group and requiring all

group members to master the contained information. Such a procedure

requires that every member participate in some way to successfully

incorporate that information into his/her cognitive structure.

Resource interdependence can also be established when each

group member is given a different book or set of resource materials to

synthesize for all group members. This "jigsaw" format involves

distributing part of the information to be mastered by the entire group to

each student who must devise techniques to educate the other group

members about his/her "piece" of the puzzle (Aronson, Blaney, Stephan,

Sikes, & Snapp, 1978). Other forms of this task specialization require

dividing a large task into several subtasks and assigning different group

members to work on a particular subtask. Cooperative learning

structures do not require task specialization, however. Many cooperative

learning groups are organized so that all members work on the same

content material, although the required degree of content mastery may

vary for each individual.

Role interdependence is established when complementary and

interconnected roles are assigned to group members. Students can even

be trained to perform their roles effectively. The purpose of this

procedure is to ensure that all students interact and to compensate for

potential status factors that might affect the access of some members to

group benefits (Cohen, 1986; Johnson et al., 1987). For example, there can

be a summarizer-checker to make sure everyone in the group

understands what is being learned, a recorder to write and edit

information, an encourager to reinforce contributions, or a facilitator to

oversee effective group functioning.

Reward interdependence is a factor in most forms of cooperative

learning. All group members are required to attain certain preexisting

criteria for the group to achieve some form of recognition. Criteria for

success are generally determined by the teacher and include both group

and individual performance. Application of this positive group reward

when all members have achieved certain individual criteria successfully

is an important motivating factor for cooperative learning groups. The

rewards can be for the group, for each individual, or some combination

of these approaches, and can be concrete such as bonus points or symbolic

such as a certificate. The Johns Hopkins models (Slavin, 1983) often use a

tournament format with intergroup competition as the basis for

promoting a perception of interdependence among group members.

Individual accountability is achieved by requiring each group

member to master the content of the assigned material or complete

specific assignments successfully for the group to achieve reward status.

Each group member has clear objectives for which he/she will be held

accountable. A variety of criterion-referenced evaluation materials can

be implemented at appropriate times to assess individual performances.

Evaluation should be both formative and summative. If formative for

evaluating progress, the teacher or group members can determine who

has not yet achieved his/her level of mastery, and instructional

assistance can be provided before summative evaluation takes place. It is

important to frequently stress and assess individual learning so that

group members can appropriately support and help each other. In some

learning situations, all members may work toward achievement of the

same criteria. For others, individual members may be evaluated

according to specific criteria. Criteria should be tailored to be challenging

and realistic for each individual group member (Johnson et al., 1987).

The aim is to encourage a "sink or swim together" (Johnson et al.,

1986) group attitude where students must agree on one theme or set of

answers while ensuring that each group member is able to explain the

rationale behind these answers. Instead of, or in addition to, rewarding

students as individuals, the teacher awards groups of students according

to the level of performance they have been able to achieve through their

combined efforts. This dependence encourages the perception that

students can obtain their goal if and only if the students with whom they

are cooperatively linked achieve theirs. They work cooperatively to

reach individual goals. Group members assist one another by discussing

how to respond to questions on assignments, checking work, or

providing feedback or tutorial assistance.

Cooperative learning may be extended throughout an entire class,

for example, by awarding bonus points if all groups in a class reach preset

criteria of excellence. Groups that are finished with their work are

encouraged to help other groups prepare in a cooperative environment

(Johnson et al., 1986).

One issue of debate concerns to what degree the formal instruction

of collaborative skills is related to successful cooperative learning

experiences. Cohen (1986) and Johnson and Johnson (1987) maintain the

importance of instructing students in appropriate interpersonal and

small group skills such as criticizing ideas without criticizing

individuals, and encouraging all group members to participate. They

believe that very few students have the collaborative skills needed for

effective group functioning, and therefore the skills have to be taught

initially. Cohen (1986) and Johnson and Johnson (1987) stress the need

for allowing cooperative groups time to analyze and evaluate how well

they are using desired social skills. The Student Team Learning

approaches of Slavin (1983) and others at The Johns Hopkins University,

although recognizing the importance of these cooperative skills, are not

as likely to include them in formal instruction.

Cooperative learning situations can involve many degrees of

structured academic conflict. Depending upon the content, issues, or

instructional materials used, and the group goal assigned, levels of

controversy can range from mildly disagreeable to highly argumentative.

Research findings (Johnson & Johnson, 1985) indicate that controversy

can have a positive influence on both academic and social factors in a

cooperative context.

In summary, both academic and social benefits have been

attributed to the concept mapping heuristic and the interactive strategy of

cooperative learning. However, students have not always successfully

completed concept map construction. This study investigated the

possibility that the supportive nature of a cooperative learning group

would increase the frequency of student success with concept map

construction, and that their combined effects would be greater than either

used alone.


This review is a summary of the research on concept mapping and

cooperative learning and the theoretical support for these instructional

techniques. In the section on concept mapping research I discuss the

cognitive and affective gains attributed to mapping proficiency, the support

for constructing concept maps in groups, the reluctance of students and

teachers to move away from rote learning, and means that have been

devised to evaluate meaningful learning.

In the next section I outline Novak's (1984) theoretical support for

concept mapping and its natural extension from the theories of Ausubel

(1978) and Gowin (1981). Ausubel's cognitive theory of meaningful

learning and its components of subsumption, progressive differentiation,

and integrative reconciliation are discussed, as well as the influences of

Kuhn (1970) and Toulmin (1972) on Novak's development of the concept

mapping heuristic. This section is concluded by relating concept mapping

to the curricular theory of M. Johnson (1967).

The section on cooperative learning research begins with a

discussion of the similarities and differences of the most widely practiced

cooperative learning programs. Research substantiating the numerous

positive cognitive and affective gains is summarized and the implications

of cooperative learning for effective instruction of heterogeneous groups

are discussed.

The final section of this research review outlines the theoretical

arguments for cooperative learning success. Positive interdependence is

singled out as the main element affecting the quality of student-student

interaction and the development of interpersonal skills in a heterogeneous


Status of Concept Mapping Research

A variety of qualitative and quantitative research studies have

demonstrated the value of concept mapping for producing cognitive and

affective gains (Novak, 1990). Concept maps have been successfully

constructed by students from kindergarten through college and have been

determined to be effective with elementary students for recognition of

organizational patterns and review (Stice & Alvarez, 1987), with middle

and high school students for success on measures of problem solving in

science (Lehman et al., 1985; Novak et al., 1983), and with college students

for retaining scientific information (Moreira, 1977). Although both high-

and low-ability students have acquired adequate concept mapping skills in

short-term studies, mastery of this heuristic has not always been attained

(Novak et al., 1983; Stewart, Van Kirk, & Rowell, 1979).

Early concept mapping studies (Bogden, 1977) did not include the

procedure of labeling propositional lines, and concept maps were generally

constructed by instructors to foster student learning or to select criteria for

student evaluation. Researchers analyzing these studies suggested the

addition of linking words to promote conceptual development and

concluded that the individual constructing the concept map is the person

who derives the most benefit from the experience. Later on the importance

of stressing the relational, "cross-link" element of a concept map was

established (Novak et al., 1983)

Researchers in preliminary qualitative studies focused upon

identification and implementation of instructional strategies that would

nurture meaningful learning practices like concept mapping and did not

attempt to evaluate the effects of concept maps on achievement.

Substantial anecdotal data were accumulated from Piagetian-type clinical

interviews conducted as part of these studies (Novak et al., 1983).

Concept Maps and Cognitive Growth

University students constructing concept maps for a unit of study

made significant gains in science achievement (Okebukola, 1990; Okebukola

& Jegede, 1988), in applying knowledge to new situations (Heinze-Fry &

Novak, 1990), and in retaining science information (Cliburn, 1987) when

compared with students not constructing concept maps. Concept mapping

has been related to the learner's cognitive preference orientation (recall,

principles, questioning, or application) in which university science students

with a principles-oriented learning mode were most successful on

measures of meaningful learning (Okebukola & Jegede, 1988). Instructor-

prepared concept maps have been effective tools for organizing course work

in university science courses and for helping students organize information

(Ault, 1985; Cliburn, 1986). In addition, concept maps have been useful for

documenting and exploring conceptual growth in biology students (Wallace

& Mintzes, 1990).

High school science students constructing concept maps have shown

a tendency toward a positive effect on measures of meaningful learning

when compared with students using text outlining (Lehman et al., 1985;

Pankratius & Keith, 1987); and middle school science students using concept

mapping as well as Vee diagramming (Gowin, 1981) outperformed students

not using these heuristics by wide margins on tests of novel problem

solving (Novak et al., 1983). Researchers have shown that the frequency of

concept map construction can affect science achievement. High school

students completing concept maps both prior to and after a unit of study

scored significantly higher on measures of higher order learning than

students completing concept maps only after a unit of study (Pankratius,

1990; Pankratius & Keith, 1987).

In a recent study, Mason (1992) investigated the value of concept map

construction for helping teachers analyze, prepare, and present subject

matter they intended to teach. Over a one semester period, teachers

progressed from vague maps with little branching and weak linking words

to less linear, more concise constructions that clearly demonstrated the

interrelatedness of scientific terms. Inability to create strong propositional

relationships indicated inadequacies in the teachers' own subject

background knowledge.

Although concept mapping research has addressed instructional,

curricular, and evaluative procedures, Novak and Gowin (1984) have

advocated its use primarily as a study strategy for students (Ault, 1985;

Novak et al., 1983) and as a tool for recording cognitive structure variables

in educational research (Ault, Novak, & Gowin, 1984). This latter function

has been reflected in construction of the left side of the Interview Vee, a

research heuristic designed for inferring a student's cognitive structure.

The Interview Vee represents knowledge formation as the result of a series

of perceived interactions between concepts, theories, and methodologies.

Researchers involved in a long-term longitudinal study used the

Interview Vee to evaluate conceptual changes occurring in students over a

ten-year period. Ault, Novak, and Gowin (1988) investigated highly

inclusive concepts over time and the influence of prior knowledge on

assimilation of new information. They concluded that improved

understanding at a later age depends upon early differentiation and

integration of concepts and understanding is not the result of specific

conceptual connections established in early learning (Ault et al., 1984).

Some researchers have found that concept mapping performance

does not correlate with success on standardized achievement tests or

traditional measures of course achievement. Students of all ability groups

have demonstrated both success and difficulty while attempting to achieve

proficiency in the concept mapping strategy. These findings have led to

speculation that concept maps require or develop different abilities than

those measured by standardized achievement tests (Novak et al., 1983), and

that performance on course achievement tests is not necessarily a measure

of meaningful learning in science.

A major concern expressed by Novak (1990) with reference to studies

of concept mapping and meaningful learning is the difficulty involved in

moving teachers and learners away from rote learning. Novak claimed

that researchers have underestimated the many changes in curriculum and

instruction necessary to successfully incorporate metacognitive tools and

meaningful learning. In many studies using concept mapping procedures,

teachers reverted to traditional instructional practices a short time after

concept map introduction.

Concept map construction is purported to be a measure of

meaningful learning (Novak & Gowin, 1984). More research is needed to

determine the validity of this claim. If accurate, its use for evaluation

would broaden the scope of materials available to educators for that

purpose. Researchers have often found it useful to assess concept maps

quantitatively, so methods have been developed for assigning values to

mapping components and comparisons to ideal maps have been made

(Novak et al., 1983). It is impossible, of course, to use concept map

performance to compare students using the heuristic for a unit of study

with those who have not been instructed in its use.

The results of many studies investigating the use of instructional

strategies like concept mapping and its effect upon meaningful learning

have demonstrated a pattern that could influence data interpretation for

short-term studies (Novak, 1990). Students new to the concept mapping

heuristic tend to show a decrease in performance on standardized course

exams during the first 2 to 4 weeks before demonstrating increases that

often become significant over time (Moreira, 1977). A shift in attitude is

also observed over time from negative to positive toward both the concept

mapping strategy and the subject.

Concept Maps and Affective Growth

Affective gains have also been attributed to concept map

construction. Concept maps may increase a student's awareness of the

components of meaningful learning, and success with this learning how to

learn strategy could create positive feelings about school learning (Novak,

1981). University biology students constructing concept maps as part of

their instruction have demonstrated lower anxiety levels and positive

feelings and attitudes toward the instructional experience (Okebukola,


The interplay between affective and cognitive learning generally leads

to more positive feelings toward subject and self (Novak, 1980). These

positive feelings could occur as students realize how new information is

related to prior knowledge through exposure to the concept map's

integrative property (Stice & Alvarez, 1987). Heinze-Fry and Novak (1990)

found that most university biology students had positive feelings about

their concept mapping experiences. The authors attributed these feelings to

the map's potential for demonstrating how an individual learns. Exposure

to the process of metalearning may nurture confidence in a student's

approach to learning and result in positive effects upon motivation to learn

(Novak & Gowin, 1984).

Support for Constructing Concept Maps in Groups

Many researchers have discussed the benefits of constructing concept

maps in groups, but most of the grouping arrangements have not been

structured in accordance with cooperative guidelines (Johnson & Johnson,

1987; Slavin, 1983); that is, no provision was made for positive

interdependence and individual accountability. One study specifically

compared concept map construction by university science students working

individually with that for students working cooperatively (Okebukola &

Jegede, 1988). The results of this study revealed significant gains on

measures of meaningful learning for students working in the cooperative

mode. Basili and Sanford (1991), working with university chemistry

students, also used concept maps in cooperative groups, but the cooperative

guidelines were not rigidly enforced. Students in these studies were found

to take more responsibility for learning key science concepts.

Other references have been made to using groups for concept map

formation but without cooperative components. Partners have been

assigned to construct maps jointly (Ault, 1985), and numerous references

have been made to the interactive nature of concept mapping (Stice &

Alvarez, 1987) and its suitability to group involvement. There are claims

that constructing concept maps in groups nurtures discussion, negotiation,

and sharing of information and feelings (Miccinati, 1988).

Research findings and theoretical claims support the view that

concept maps and subsequent meaningful learning can be successfully

developed in cooperative groups. Novak and Gowin (1984) have discussed

the potential of concept mapping for sharing or negotiating meanings with

other students or the teacher. As a visual, overt representation of a unit of

knowledge, the concept map can stimulate dialogue, exchange and sharing

of information, compromise, and recognition of missing links and


Gowin (1981) discussed the fact that social interaction can facilitate

concept map construction and metalearning or learning how to learn, and

that concept maps provide students with insight into the conceptual nature

of knowledge. Discussions generated by student-constructed maps can help

students monitor their understanding of the learning process (Novak &

Gowin, 1984).

Cooperative learning groups could provide a suitable structure for

developing the active mental operations that concept maps require and

help reconcile new material into existing cognitive structure. The social

interaction and motivation of a cooperative group could provide for peer

explanations, discussions, and negotiations in an atmosphere of

commitment to learning and positive feelings (Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

Ausubel (1968) contended that for meaningful learning to occur, the

learner must play an active role in clarifying, categorizing, summarizing,

and investigating new information from different angles, and comparing

and contrasting new information with prior knowledge. Ausubel also

mentioned the importance of encouraging critical appraisal of subject

matter. Cooperative learning studies have revealed its potential for

nurturing the conditions required for meaningful learning to occur.

Concept mapping researchers have often encountered situations in

which students were unable to master the construction of this heuristic

(Novak et al., 1983). Novak (1990) suggested that both students and teachers

have had problems persevering with the meaningful character of concept

mapping. Other researchers have reported mixed findings with regard to its

value for promoting cognitive growth (Lehman et al., 1985). Cooperative

learning structures could provide the social support and motivation

necessary to reduce the occurrence of these problems.

Evaluation of Meaningful Learning

How to successfully evaluate meaningful learning has been a

considerable challenge for concept mapping researchers. Novak and others

(1981) have designed instruments for measuring a student's ability to

transfer knowledge from one setting to a novel problem solving task. It is

intended that successful performance on these measures requires student

thought at the application, synthesis, or evaluation levels of Bloom (1968),

and construction so that rote learning alone is not sufficient for success.

The "Winebottle Test" (Novak et al., 1983) is an example of one

measure of higher order thinking skills that has shown some validity.

Students are presented with an event, a cork popping out of a warmed,

empty wine bottle, and required to explain the event using related concepts,

such as expansion and kinetic energy, that they have just studied. Scoring

is based upon the number of valid relationships expressed in student

responses. Measures of higher order learning have also been constructed by

Lehman et al. (1985).

Theoretical Basis for Concept Mapping

Ausubelian Theory

Ausubel's (1968) theory of learning consists of a set of interrelated

psychological concepts designed to explain how knowledge is transferred

through verbal statements. Three of his major ideas or concepts:

subsumption, progressive differentiation, and integrative reconciliation are

represented in concept mapping construction (Novak & Gowin, 1984).

Subsumption is the idea that new information is meaningful when

it is related to and subsumable under established, more inclusive concepts

(Novak, 1977). Ausubel contended that cognitive structure is hierarchically

organized with more inclusive concepts and propositions superordinate to

less inclusive concepts and propositions. As subsumption occurs for a

particular topic, the structure of knowledge becomes progressively more

differentiated. The elaboration and refinement of a topic enhance the

assimilation of new informational chunks (Novak, 1980).

Progressive differentiation in cognitive structure occurs as additional

propositional linkages are formed with related concepts resulting in greater

inclusiveness of some topics and greater specificity of others (Novak &

Gowin, 1984). As this framework becomes more extensive, the learner can

detect meaning in objects or events previously considered unimportant.

Novak's definition of learning as a change in the meaning of experience is

largely based upon this idea of progressive differentiation (Novak, 1977).

This conceptual reorganization suggests that concept meanings are

constantly modified and made more explicit and inclusive (Novak &

Gowin, 1984). Meaningful conceptual learning occurs as new propositional

links are acquired through progressive differentiation. Constructing

additional propositional units on a concept map is viewed as a direct

application of this idea.

Integrative reconciliation occurs when two or more concepts in

cognitive structure are recognized as relatable in new propositional

meanings (Novak & Gowin, 1984). This may involve bringing previously

established cognitive links into harmony with new information as

similarities and differences in meaning are resolved. Integrative

reconciliation of concepts can be expressed on a concept map as valid cross-

links (Novak, 1981) are constructed between sets of concepts that might

otherwise be viewed as independent. Integrative reconciliation results in at

least some further differentiation of related concepts. Its contribution to

meaningful learning is the conscious awareness of new relationships

between old and new sets of concepts or propositions.

According to Ausubel's (1968) assimilation theory of cognitive

learning, meaningful learning occurs when (a) new concepts or concept

meanings are linked to existing concepts or propositions the learner already

has; (b) new information is subsumed under broader, more inclusive

concepts; and (c) acquisition of integrative relationships between concepts is

achieved. Novak (1980) would add to these requirements for meaningful

learning that (a) the new material be inherently meaningful; (b) the learner

has a meaningful learning set, that is, he/she consciously tries to link and

incorporate new knowledge with existing, relevant knowledge; and (c) the

learner possesses relevant concepts so that subsumption may occur. A

meaningful learning set is demonstrated by a student investigating material

from different angles, reconciling it with similar or contradictory

information, and translating it into his/her own frame of reference.

For new material to be presented effectively by the teacher and

acquired meaningfully by the learner, the stability and clarity of prior

knowledge must be assured (Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian, 1978).

Meaningful learning occurs when students recognize relationships between

concepts as they exist in their minds and as they exist in the environment.

As subsumption, progressive differentiation, and integrative reconciliation

occur, linking new concepts meaningfully to existing concepts, the structure

of knowledge for those concepts can be substantially altered.

Novak and Concept Mapping

Novak regarded educating as the process by which we actively seek to

change the meaning of experience (Novak & Gowin, 1984). As concept

meanings develop through growth of propositional frameworks, our

awareness of objects or events may be altered. Because cognitive structure is

the result of an individual's unique interpretation of sensory experiences,

the set of propositions a person has describing a concept defines that

person's idiosyncratic meaning for that concept (Novak et al., 1983).

The regularity represented by the concept label is given more precise

meaning through the addition of propositional statements that include the

concept (Novak & Gowin, 1984). Propositions, in turn, gain meaning as the

concepts of which they are composed are elaborated. Concepts do not exist

in isolation but depend upon their relationships with many others for

meaning, and meaningful learning varies with the extent of the learner's

relevant cognitive structure (Novak, 1979).

According to Ausubel (1978), the most important factor influencing

learning is what the learner already knows; that is, what concepts he/she

possesses that are relevant to the topic of instruction. How easily an

individual can acquire, integrate, and retain new information into his/her

cognitive structure will depend upon this factor.

Novak (1981) has claimed that concept mapping is a practical

application of Ausubel's theory. The philosophical basis for concept

mapping is that concepts, and propositions composed of concepts, are the

central elements in the structure of knowledge and the construction of

meaning (Novak & Gowin, 1984). Concept mapping research has been

based on the hypothesis that effective meaningful learning occurs as

students organize knowledge in hierarchical frameworks, and,

consequently, improve their ability to use this knowledge (Novak, 1977).

High success with concept mapping is viewed as evidence of higher

order meaningful learning, that is, learning categorized at the application,

synthesis, and evaluation levels described by Bloom (1956). Students who

have learned a topic meaningfully should be able to transform this new

knowledge and apply it creatively in novel situations. Concept mapping

contributes to meaningful learning by (a) providing a schematic display of

the learner's "cognitive starting place;" (b) increasing the learner's ability to

distinguish between general and more specific concepts through its

hierarchical requirement; and (c) providing for labeling of lines and the

addition of cross-links to strengthen knowledge of relationships between


Decisions contributing to the arrangement of concepts in a hierarchy

appear to be based upon several factors. The degree of inclusiveness or

abstraction of a concept, its reference to events or concreteness, or its

connections to other concepts all influence hierarchical decisions (Ault et

al., 1988). The degree of conceptual abstraction depends on the number of

intervening concepts between the concept and examples of events or

objects, or the number of connections to other important concepts. The

context and focus of the study material are also reflected in hierarchical

decisions. No concept is in any absolute sense more or less abstract than

another. In one context, a concept may function at a high level of

superordinality. When the focus of attention changes, however, that same

concept may be subsumed by more inclusive propositions and represent a

low level idea (Ault et al., 1988).

Construction of a hierarchical concept map requires reflection on the

concepts in a unit of subject matter and subsequent evaluation as most

inclusive, less inclusive, and least inclusive. The hierarchy selected

suggests a specific differentiation of concepts (Novak & Gowin, 1984).

A concept map is a strategy that can foster learning or understanding

of knowledge. Confronted with the visual approximation of what they

already know about a particular topic, students can see how knowledge is

increased as events or objects are observed through the concepts they

already possess. This lesson into the nature or construction of knowledge

exposes them to metalearning or learning about learning (Novak & Gowin,


Evolutionary Views of Knowledge

In addition to the impact of Ausubel's theory on the work of Novak

and concept mapping, the writings of Kuhn (1970), Toulmin (1972), and

Gowin (1981) have also been influential. The underlying theme of these

epistemological points of view is that knowledge is not absolute but

dependent upon the concepts, theories, and methodologies by which

individuals view the world.

Information processing systems have been described by Ausubel

(1978) with regard to cognitive structure, by Novak with regard to concept

mapping (Novak & Gowin, 1984), and by Gowin (1981) with regard to the

structure of knowledge. It is hypothesized that as these information

processing systems assimilate new information, they are reorganized to

accommodate this information. Therefore, these systems are in continuous


Meanings derive from perceived relationships between concepts as

they are constructed through the learner's unique sensory experiences

(Novak & Gowin, 1984). This human construction of knowledge is subject

to the strengths and weaknesses of the ideational frameworks,

instrumentation, and emotional fluctuations of human beings (Ault et al.,


Kuhn (1970) has suggested that scientific inquiry is guided, and

sometimes constrained, by the conceptual schemes or paradigms scientists

construct. He views the history of science as a series of knowledge changes

resulting from major shifts in perception occurring as new paradigms

replace old paradigms. New factual evidence affects human perspectives

and scientists invent new paradigms through which to view reality.

Toulmin (1972) supported this idea of changing perspectives by

advocating the evolutionary character of knowledge. Concepts evolve as

species do. Human understanding depends upon the conceptual systems

and theories that exist in a culture. Because this understanding is based

upon the elements of conceptual structure, and concepts evolve over time,

theories must also evolve. Toulmin's view of science as built upon

evolving conceptual schemes complements a psychology of learning

centered on the acquisition and use of concepts.

Gowin and Novak further supported this tentative view of

knowledge. Gowin described new knowledge as a "claim" restricted by the

context of concepts and methods that produce the claim (Ault et al., 1988).

Novak (1977) contended that concepts do not have fixed meanings, but

rather meanings derived from the matrix of learned propositions in which

they are embedded. The meaning of a concept in any discipline derives

from the set of relationships described that use the concept label, and these

meanings change over time.

Novak and others (Ault, 1985; Novak & Gowin, 1984) have

advocated a variety of curricular uses for concept maps. Novak supported

these claims with Ausubel's (1963, 1968, 1978) theory of meaningful verbal

learning and Johnson's (1967) model of curriculum. Ausubel addressed the

curricular tasks of selecting and organizing content, as well as instructional

concerns, within the framework of subsumption, progressive

differentiation, and integrative reconciliation. Ausubel made a distinction

between curriculum and instruction and Johnson made a similar


Curricular Theory

Johnson (1967) viewed curriculum as a structured series of intended

learning outcomes, involving the selection and organization of the

cognitive, affective, and psychomotor objectives of a unit of study. The

appropriate examples selected to illustrate the chosen curricular concepts

and propositions make up the instructional content of the program.

Concept mapping can be a useful tool for curriculum designers to

distinguish between the curricular and instructional aspects of a topic of

study. When a concept map includes concrete instructional examples

intended to explain the concepts and propositions to be taught, it becomes a

guide to instruction as well as to curriculum.

Status of Cooperative Learning Research

Cooperative Learning Approaches

Extensive research has been conducted under the broad heading of

cooperative learning. Among the most prominent research movements in

this area are the Learning Together program of Roger and David Johnson

(1975) at the University of Minnesota, the Student Team Learning program of

Robert Slavin (1986) and others at The Johns Hopkins University, and the

Heterogeneous Classroom Strategies introduced by Elizabeth Cohen (1986) at

Stanford University. These approaches range from the open-ended and

student-centered models of Cohen and Johnson and Johnson to the more

structured, teacher-centered models of Slavin.

The Johnsons and Cohen advocate familiarizing teachers with the

main components of cooperative learning so they may adapt these general

guidelines to their unique teaching situations. The teacher is viewed

primarily as a classroom manager and consultant promoting effective group

functioning as well as individual academic growth. Johnson et al. (1986) and

Cohen (1986) believe their methods are particularly suitable for problem

solving or conceptual tasks that lend themselves to group discussion,

investigation, and controversy. The cooperative development of a group

product is the focus of these approaches often involving the pursuit of higher

level cognitive objectives. The need for teaching interpersonal skills is

viewed as necessary and critical to the success of these methods of cooperative


Models advocated by The Johns Hopkins University researchers

(Slavin, 1983) have been very successful for teaching skills and meeting

objectives with one set of answers. These models generally follow a step-by-

step procedure and appear very appropriate for work in math and other

subjects that emphasize individual practice of specifically sequenced skills.

Slavin (1983) used intergroup competition as the vehicle for promoting a

perception of interdependence among group members. For these models,

direct teacher instruction is followed by practice in cooperative groups. Long-

term curricular packages have been developed specifically for elementary

math and language arts that use cooperative learning as the predominant

instructional strategy.

Although researchers disagree about which cooperative learning

processes work best and for what purposes, the bulk of the research conducted

thus far indicates that student-student interaction conducted in a cooperative

setting can produce both cognitive and affective development. The peer

support and acceptance that a cooperative arrangement nurtures affect the

quality of peer interactions taking place which, in turn, affect social and

cognitive development (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). These results have been

found for students of all age levels, attending inner city, suburban, or rural

schools, and involved in any one of a wide range of subject areas and tasks

(including science and science-related activities). Students working in

cooperative learning groups have been successful on tasks involving concept

attainment, verbal problem solving, categorization, spatial problem solving,

retention, and memory (Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

Researchers in several hundred studies have compared the impact of

competitive, individualistic, and cooperative learning structures on cognitive

and affective outcomes. The majority of this research indicates that students

learn more effectively in a cooperative format (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). A

meta-analysis of 122 research studies comparing learning structures indicated

that students achieve more in cooperative interactions than in competitive

or individualistic learning structures. These results were found for several

subject areas and involved age groups from elementary school children to

adults (Johnson et al., 1981).

Cooperative Learning and Cognitive Growth

Cognitive gains by students working in cooperative groups have also

been documented in other cooperative learning summaries (Johnson,

Johnson, & Maruyama, 1983; Slavin, 1983). These results suggest that

cooperative learning methods are feasible in many classroom situations and

likely to have positive effects on achievement and other outcome variables.

Slavin (1983) conducted 41 studies of cooperative learning groups in regular

classrooms and observed significantly greater learning by experimental

groups in 26 of these studies. The results of only one study showed

significantly greater learning in a control group.

Another review of Student Team Learning methods indicated

significant achievement gains by students in 29 of 35 experimental groups. In

most cases, control groups were composed of subjects working in traditionally

taught classes studying the same sets of objectives as the experimental groups.

None of the studies on Student Team Learning methods resulted in findings

favoring control groups (Slavin, 1983).

Researchers have found that students working cooperatively learn

course material faster, retain it longer, and make significant gains in

achievement for conceptual and problem solving tasks (Johnson et al, 1981;

Skon, Johnson, & Johnson, 1981). When structured effectively, students

involved in cooperative small group activities develop higher quality

strategies for understanding and responding to tasks (Johnson, Skon, &

Johnson, 1980), make greater use of higher level reasoning (Johnson, et al.,

1987), and develop critical reasoning power more rapidly than students not

working cooperatively (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). The results of some

studies have indicated that academic gains are most significant for minority

and low-achieving students (Slavin, 1983) and that black and Hispanic

students show the greatest gains in achievement from cooperative learning

arrangements (Good & Brophy, 1987).

Cooperative Learning and Affective or Collaborative Growth

Positive effects on outcomes other than achievement have also been

impressive. Researchers have concluded that student attitudes toward

school, teachers, subjects (including science), and instructional activities are

more positive as a result of participating in cooperative formats than under

competitive or individualized conditions. Greater intrinsic motivation to

learn in cooperative settings has been demonstrated in studies by both Slavin

(1983) and Johnson and Johnson (1985), as well as positive effects on

classroom climate, attendance, and internal locus of control (Johnson &

Johnson, 1989; Slavin, 1983). In addition, students working cooperatively may

exhibit a greater perceived likelihood of success and view success as more

important (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Cooperative learning structures have

also reduced math and science anxiety for girls expressing such concerns.

Compared to competitive and individualized conditions, students

working cooperatively engage in more positive interpersonal relationships

with peers. This is characterized by increased frequency of acts of assistance,

encouragement, and friendliness and holds true regardless of differences in

student ability level, sex, handicapping conditions, ethnic membership, or

social class (Johnson et al., 1983; Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Slavin, 1983).

Students cooperatively involved in problem solving situations seek new

information from each other more than students working competitively and

make optimal use of information provided by other students. These greater

perceptions of peer academic support are attributed to the atmosphere that

the obligations of positive interdependence nurture (Johnson & Johnson,

1991; Johnson et al., 1980).

Cooperativeness has been positively related to self-esteem in students

from elementary, middle, junior high, and high school and in urban, rural,

and suburban settings (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Academic self-confidence

is promoted as a result of perceived acceptance of verbal contributions, and

low-achieving students benefit from immediate peer tutoring. In addition, a

sense of accomplishment can result from suggesting solutions to problems

(Johnson et al., 1981; Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Slavin, 1983).

Some researchers have investigated the importance of developing

interpersonal social skills for cooperative group success. Methods like

Learning Together that set a high priority on developing collaborative skills

have proven less likely to produce significant advantages in achievement

over traditional formats (Slavin, 1983). Johnson and Johnson maintained,

however, that as the quality of interaction in small groups is enhanced

through training, students spend more time on tasks and engage in more

detailed explanations. This results in greater retention of information and

critical thinking experiences (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). Students develop

better social skills and engage in them more frequently when the teacher

monitors this behavior for the accumulation of group bonus points.

Heterogeneous Grouping

Cooperative learning experiences in heterogeneous classrooms tend to

promote greater cognitive and affective perspective taking than do

competitive or individualistic conditions with group members being viewed

as enriching resources with different perspectives. The frequent exchange of

information that can occur in a cooperative group is assumed to promote

more differentiated, dynamic, and realistic views of other students (Johnson

& Johnson, 1991).

Students working cooperatively demonstrate greater acceptance of

differences among peers, and researchers focusing on heterogeneous classes

have found the most positive acceptance levels in mainstreamed situations

where learning handicapped students worked cooperatively with

nonhandicapped classmates (Johnson et al., 1983; Johnson & Johnson, 1991;

Slavin, 1983). In addition, researchers have indicated improved race relations

among students working cooperatively in integrated classrooms and have

suggested that the use of cooperative learning in heterogeneous classrooms

can reduce the need for separate special education classes and ability tracking

(Slavin, 1983).

In a study comparing intergroup competition to intergroup

cooperation (Johnson & Johnson, 1985), the latter condition promoted more

inclusion of minority students in the learning process, more cross-ethnic

relationships, and more differentiated views of students with factors other

than ability recognized as valuable. This greater inclusion of minority

students resulted in less difference between the achievement of minority and

majority students when intergroup cooperation was used. These effects are

attributed to the procedure of linking minority students positively with

majority students in the classroom.

Studies have also been conducted to investigate the effects on student

achievement of group composition and the interaction patterns of students

during group meetings (Webb, 1982). These studies involved groups of four

students whose interactions were tape recorded for later analysis. Results of

these studies suggest that giving explanations to other group members

correlates positively with achievement and that explaining material to others

can be an effective learning experience for the explainer as well as the person

receiving the explanation. In addition, students who ask pertinent questions

and succeed in getting their questions answered demonstrate higher levels of

performance on achievement measures than their peers who did not ask


Cohen (1986) has found that gains in achievement are directly related

to the frequency of productive student-student interaction, and that status

factors can affect this frequency. Expectations for academic competence can

become linked to social position resulting in domination of interactive

patterns by popular students. To assure that all students benefit from

group interaction, Cohen advocated training programs and role assignments

to facilitate participation of all members.

Gender Differences

Heterogeneous group composition is considered a fundamental

component of cooperative learning success (Cohen, 1986; Johnson & Johnson,

1991; Slavin, 1983). This heterogeneity contributes to positive student-

student interaction by providing a wide range of experiential input and

points of view. When heterogeneity of cooperative learning groups is

discussed in the literature, integration by gender, race, and academic

achievement are all required. Of these components, the element of gender

has usually received less attention than ethnicity or achievement (Conwell,

Griffin, & Algozzine, 1993). Perhaps this is partly because of the heavy

emphasis that has been placed upon cooperative learning as a method for

improving race relations in schools (Slavin, 1983).

Becker (1989) conducted a reanalysis of accumulated data on gender

differences and science achievement and concluded that gender differences

were a weaker predictor of scientific outcomes than ethnicity, race, or

cognitive ability. Becker concluded that subject matter content was the only

area in which significant differences between males and females were found,

with males showing advantages over females in studies of biology, general

science, and physics.

In a recent cooperative learning study involving students in

intermediate-grade level science classrooms (Conwell et al., 1993), significant

gender effects were observed for students working cooperatively. These

groups were heterogeneous for gender and race and participated in an

inquiry-based science activity where manipulatives were used to test ideas. In

this study, males were found to be significantly more influential within the

group than females with regard to decision making. This was manifest both

by more verbal initiation of proposed solutions to problems and by more

active testing of hypotheses with manipulatives. Females, on the other hand,

when acting as facilitators, were significantly better than males at encouraging

all members to participate in activities.

Webb (1984) investigated the effects of gender group composition on

achievement and patterns of interaction. In this study, students were

heterogeneously placed into cooperative learning groups with four members.

Groups could be composed of (a) equal numbers of males and females, (b)

three males and one female (majority-male groups), and (c) three females

and one male (majority-female groups). The results of this study indicated

that achievement and interaction patterns were nearly identical for both boys

and girls in groups composed of equal numbers of males and females. In

majority-male groups and majority-female groups, however, males showed

higher achievement than females. In majority female groups, females

focused much of their attention on the male member of the group who was

often apathetic to their requests. In the majority-male groups, males focused

their attention on the other males and tended to ignore the female member.

Cooperative Learning and High-Achievers

Although cooperative learning experiences appear to be viewed

positively by socially-oriented students and those who receive help from

peers, questions arise about their value for students who prefer to learn alone

and academic student leaders who assume much of the responsibility for

tutoring in cooperative learning formats (Good & Brophy, 1987). Johnson

and Johnson (1991) maintained that high achievers working in

heterogeneous cooperative groups perform as well as bright students working

competitively or individually on tests of achievement. High achievers in

cooperative groups have scored higher on tests of retention, used higher

level reasoning strategies more frequently, and engaged in more in-depth

critical analyses and elaborative explanations (Johnson et al., 1986). Their

development of collaborative skills and friendships while engaging in

cooperation is believed to have a positive influence on their self-esteem and

attitudes toward subject matter and the instructional experience.

Structured Controversy

Involved participation in cooperative learning groups inevitably

produces conflicts of ideas and opinions (Johnson et al., 1986). These

academic disagreements can range from mild negotiation to heated

argumentation. Recent research has explored the use of cooperative groups

for structuring discussions of controversial issues (Johnson & Johnson, 1985).

Findings from these studies suggest that controversy can have a positive

influence on learning within a cooperative context.

Cooperative controversies utilize the elements of positive goal and

resource interdependence to minimize negative peer conflict. Peer academic

support is maintained while controversies are discussed without displays of

negative attitudes among participants. In a structured controversy, the

teacher assigns students to groups of four that are heterogeneous with regard

to achievement, gender, and ethnicity. Each group is then separated into two

pairs. Each pair is presented with materials supporting either a pro or con

position of a particular issue, asked to learn the supporting arguments, and

then to present their view to the opposing pair (Johnson & Johnson, 1985).

The format for these presentations provides an opportunity for discussion of

differences and verbalization of both positive and negative criticism. After

this occurs, student pairs are instructed to reverse their perspectives and

present the opposing position as sincerely and forcefully as they can.

Following this procedure, students drop their advocacy, compare the

strengths and weaknesses of the two positions, and attempt to reach a group

consensus on the issue. This consensus is exemplified in a quality group

report supporting their position (ideally a synthesis of the two points of view)

on which all group members will be evaluated (Johnson et al., 1987).

Individual accountability takes the form of a test on content covered in both

positions, an oral presentation with all group members contributing, or both.

Groups whose members all score above a preset criterion of excellence receive

some form of recognition.

The collaborative skills encouraged in such cooperatively structured

controversies stress criticism of ideas but not individuals as intellectual

positions are advocated, criticized, and evaluated. The intention of such a

structured format is that all ideas are brought forth and then synthesized into

a consensual decision.

Research findings support numerous academic and social benefits

derived from participation in such structured controversies. Studies have

compared structured controversies to competitive debates, individualized

instruction, and groups discouraged from disagreeing. In these cases,

students participating in structured controversies have demonstrated more

verbal rehearsal and exchange of the assigned information, greater mastery

and retention of subject matter, higher quality problem solving ability, and

easier transition to higher levels of cognitive and moral reasoning (Johnson

& Johnson, 1985).

The process of arguing and then coming to a joint conclusion creates

positive attitudes toward science and school. These attitudes are

characterized by greater motivation to learn, higher epistemic curiosity, an

increased desire to search for more information, and more enjoyment of the

instructional material and subject matter (Johnson & Johnson, 1985, 1989).

Participants in structured controversies are more positive about taking part in

discussions, give more peer academic support, enjoy higher self-esteem and

are more likely to reevaluate their own positions and compromise or change

attitudes (Johnson & Johnson, 1985, 1989).

Results of structured controversies have been particularly positive for

academically handicapped students (Johnson & Johnson, 1985). Although

there is considerably more interaction among all students in general, the

most significant differences in interaction are between nonhandicapped and

academically handicapped students. Presumably to prepare all group

members for measures of individual accountability, nonhandicapped

students choose discussions with handicapped peers over nonhandicappped

group mates. This is interpreted as a more accepting and supportive

relationship among handicapped and nonhandicapped peers (Johnson &

Johnson, 1985, 1989). Although there is typically considerable rejection of

handicapped students by their nonhandicapped peers (Johnson et al., 1983),

structured academic controversies tend to promote strong cross-handicap

interpersonal attraction even when there are considerable differences in

ability to engage in intellectual discussion.


The overwhelmingly positive research findings for cooperative

learning experiences are open to some speculation. In many cases,

experimental groups were experiencing cooperative learning for the first time

and for a limited number of weeks, raising questions about novelty and the

long-term effects of cooperative learning. Teachers have commented on the

considerable initial preparation required to adapt traditional lessons into

cooperative formats and the time required to teach and maintain the

procedures and interpersonal skills required for productive group work

(Tyrrell, 1990).

Successful performance on measures of achievement for students

working cooperatively appears to be primarily related to the use of specific

group rewards based upon each member's individual performance. Although

Student Team Learning methods using intergroup competition as the

incentive for group rewards have demonstrated consistently positive effects

on student achievement, so have other reward systems that are not

competitive. What is required is that provisions are made for specific group

rewards based on the cumulative performance of individual group members.

Good results have been obtained by giving team certificates for groups

meeting preset standards regardless of the performance of other teams and by

using task specialization to motivate students to encourage their group

members (Good & Brophy, 1987). Research has also shown that the

magnitude of the group reward is not as important to students as the

motivating effect of individual success for team success.

The effects of cooperative learning on achievement, therefore, appear

to be primarily motivational. However, the motivation to successfully

compete against other teams is not as important as the desire to achieve

individual goals and thus ensure team success.

Theoretical Basis for Cooperative Learning

The nature of student-student interaction is at the heart of cooperative

learning theory. How instructional goals are structured controls the type of

student-student interaction that will occur. This in turn controls the

instructional outcome. Learning goals can be structured competitively,

individually, or cooperatively, and these structures can affect how students

feel about school, teachers, each other, and themselves (Johnson & Johnson,


Positive Interdependence

A student's performance in a cooperative group has consequences for

other team members. Positive reward interdependence is fostered in

cooperative learning techniques by creating a condition where one student's

success helps others to be successful (Slavin, 1980). Students in cooperative

settings are viewed as capable of learning on their own and from one

another. It is assumed that children are aware of their strengths and

weaknesses and can serve as strong motivators for moving peers toward task

completion (Slavin, 1983).

Cooperative learning groups are designed to promote an environment

of support nurtured by the element of positive interdependence. Two

responsibilities are delegated to students. First, they must learn the

material themselves, and second, they must help their teammates master it.

Positive interdependence leads to a promotive interaction pattern among

students where individuals encourage and support each other's efforts to

achieve. Determining individual levels of mastery is necessary and must be a

frequent occurrence so that students can continue to provide support and

assistance to each other when it is required.

Student-Student Interaction

The quality of the peer interaction and relationships that cooperation

nurtures can have a widespread and powerful impact. Peers can serve as

models or provide opportunities for reinforcing prosocial behavior.

Promotive interaction is characterized by personal and academic acceptance

and support, high intrinsic achievement motivation, and high emotional

involvement in learning (Slavin, 1983).

The verbal interchange that occurs as students work to fulfill their

responsibilities nurtures the sharing and caring aspects of cooperative

learning. The same type of peer support that characterizes sport teams

motivates students to participate in more oral discussion as they summarize,

listen, and evaluate each other to determine levels of mastery (Johnson &

Johnson, 1991). Students deepen their understanding of material and gain a

sense of accomplishment as they explain ideas to others or suggest solutions

for problems. The format maximizes explaining and minimizes listening.

Metacognitive growth can be achieved as students verbalize and learn how

they learn and listen to strategies that others have used (Tyrrell, 1990).

Exposure to multiple perspectives inherent in group work fosters analysis,

synthesis, and evaluation.

Cooperative learning is based on the assumption of the social

construction of knowledge and the idea that cognitive functions appear first

on the social level and then on the individual level. It is argued that

cooperation should increase group cohesiveness both because it increases

contact among group members and because people tend to like those who

help them achieve their own rewards (Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

Retention of information is closely linked with the formation of

concepts and schemata that can be formed and modified via communication

with others in group discussions. Cognitive rehearsal strategies can increase

retention and these readily take place in small groups.


The idea that cooperative learning can constructively deal with student

heterogeneity in classrooms focuses on the quality of interactions among

ethnic groups. Cooperative relationships among heterogeneous groups tend

to produce acceptance of differences and encourage exploration of different

perspectives. Heterogeneous groups are considered the most powerful for

problem solving situations due to the variety of perspectives resulting from a

mix of backgrounds, skills and points of view. Theoretically, cooperative

learning would require students to get to know and work with classmates of

different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds as students are socially

integrated in a way that facilitates their learning and interest and brings an

awareness of similarities and differences (Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Slavin,


Teacher selection of group composition is required to ensure

heterogeneity of gender, ethnicity, and achievement. Group size is

dependent upon the amount of experience students have at working

collaboratively and by the number of students needed to stimulate each

other's thinking while ensuring participation of all (Johnson & Johnson,


Membership on a cooperative learning team provides the initial

impetus for students to work. As they begin to achieve academic success, they

become more confident in their roles and begin to work harder. All students

find their exertion important and realize that they can contribute to the team.

Students do not need to depend entirely on the teacher and are encouraged to

draw upon their own creativity and that of their peers (Tyrrell, 1990).


Cooperative learning experiences promote development of basic

interpersonal skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). These cooperative skills are

needed to maintain career, family, and community relationships basic to

every individual, as well as provide problem solving and inquiry experiences

that may be necessary in the work place. Teaching students interpersonal and

small group skills helps bring each member's learning to the maximum by

maintaining good working relationships.


In this 6-week study, intact classes of middle school science

students constructing concept maps in cooperative learning groups were

compared with classes constructing concept maps independently and

with classes working cooperatively without concept mapping. At the end

of one 3-week unit of study in science, and again at the end of a second 3-

week unit, measures of low-level science content knowledge and

measures of high-level transfer problem solving ability in science were

administered to all students to evaluate the effects of the different

classroom structures on these dependent variables. Two measures of

attitudes toward the instructional experience (one for concept mapping

and another for cooperative learning) were administered at the end of

the second three-week unit (See Table 3-1). A more detailed

diagrammatic flow chart for each 3-week unit is presented in

Appendix A.

Setting and Research Participants

The setting for this study was an overseas American middle

school. Approximately 60% of the school population were United States

citizens and the remaining 40% represented more than 40 other

Table 3-1

Study Design for Two Consecutive 3-Week Units in Science

Unit Unit2
Group Science Content and Science Content and Science Content and Science Content and Measure of Attitudes
Transfer Problem Transfer Problem Transfer Problem Transfer Problem Toward Instructional
Solving Pretests Solving Posttests Solving Pretests Solving Posttests Experiences

Teacher (Grade 7)

Classroom 1 x x x x x
-CM independently
Classroom 2 x x x x x
-CL without CM 1
Classroom 3 x x x x x
-CM with CL

Teacher (Grade 8)

Classroom 1 x x x x x
- CM independently
Classroom 2 x x x x x
-CL without CM
Classroom 3 x x x x x
- CM with CL

Note. CM = concept mapping; CL = cooperative learning

nationalities. Of this remaining 40%, more than half had attended

schools providing an American curriculum for at least 1 year.

Approximately 10% of the school population were non-native English

speaking students who demonstrated varying degrees of English


Participants in this study were 132 seventh and eighth graders. A

grade-level by gender distribution of this sample is shown in Table 3-2.

The 66 seventh graders and 66 eighth graders were divided into three

sections per grade level with from 20 to 23 students per section. This

assignment to academic sections was traditionally accomplished by

teacher selection in an effort to maintain heterogeneity with respect to

ability, gender, and ethnicity and was not by random selection.

Research Design

Classes of two teachers (one seventh and one eighth grade teacher)

were used in this study. Each teacher had 15 or more years of previous

science teaching experience and had been consistently judged above

average on indicators of teaching ability. These teachers, who already

were familiar with the basic elements of cooperative learning and

concept mapping, were trained and instructed by the researcher prior to

the study and monitored for fidelity throughout implementation. The

students in three sections of these seventh and eighth grade science

teachers' classes participated in this study. The three sections per grade

Table 3-2

Sample Distribution by Grade Level, Gender, and Treatment Group

Grade CM only CL only CM with CL

male female male female male female

Seventh 10 12 9 13 10 12

Eighth 13 8 12 10 11 12

Note. CM is concept mapping and CL is cooperative learning

level were all taught by the same teacher and assigned to treatments

using a random number table.

As a result of the treatment assignments, only two groups were

contrasted on each of the attitudinal measures. The measure dealing

with attitudes toward cooperative learning was administered to the

group working cooperatively without mapping and to the group working

cooperatively with mapping. The measure dealing with attitudes toward

concept mapping was administered to the group mapping independently

and to the group mapping cooperatively (See Table 3-3).

Table 3-3

Administration of Attitudinal Measures

Treatment Concept Mapping Cooperative Learning
Measure Measure

Mapping Only X

Cooperative Only X

Mapping and Coop X X

Description of Treatments

The cooperative learning groups in this study were expected to

focus on the completion of a group product and the achievement of high

level cognitive objectives. Students were encouraged to discuss issues

critically and practice positive interpersonal skills (See Appendix B).

Because these components are consistent with the Learning Together

philosophy of David and Roger Johnson, most cooperative grouping

procedures followed guidelines developed by Johnson et al., (1987).

These procedures included establishment of positive interdependence

and individual accountability, as well as provision for monitoring and

group processing.

The procedures for constructing heterogeneous groups and

establishing base scores followed guidelines developed by Slavin (1983).

One student facilitator was also designated for each cooperative learning

group in accordance with guidelines developed by Cohen (1986). These

facilitators were not intended to be strong leaders who might inhibit

creative student-student interchange. Their function was to help

provide group efficiency and prevent status factors from limiting group

access for any student. In this study, they were instructed by the teacher

to encourage participation by all members, to keep the group on task, and

to intervene if students with high academic or social standing were

dominating group discussions or decisions. To assure each group's

acceptance of this student facilitator, Cohen suggested that the teacher

explain the specific duties of this person to all students and make it clear

that the facilitator was carrying out a specifically assigned task. The

researcher, with support from another staff member familiar with the

facilitator's role, trained these students using guidelines suggested by

Cohen. This training took the form of two, 1/2 hour, role-playing


Organization of all concept mapping procedures followed

guidelines developed by Novak and Gowin (1984) and stressed the

element of cross-links in construction. Cross-links are horizontal

propositions connecting sub-domains of conceptual structure and are

regarded as examples of higher order learning (Heinze-Fry & Novak,

1990; Novak et al., 1983).

Science units were selected in an effort to introduce content that

students had not likely encountered in their previous schooling

experiences. Introductory teacher lectures provided basic information

intended to bring students to approximately the same entry level. This is

in accordance with Ausubel's (1968) theory of providing a conceptual

starting place for students to meaningfully link new information.

Ausubel contended that this new information could then be transformed

and applied to novel situations.


The overall hypothesis of this study focused on three broad

outcome variables: (a) recall or low-level science content knowledge; (b)

high-level transfer problem solving ability in science, and (c) attitudes

toward the learning activity. These three constructs were operationally

defined with a variety of standardized and researcher-developed

instruments. Although the constructs for outcome variables were the

same for both seventh and eighth grades, specific instruments for

measuring these outcomes differed to match the science curricula taught

at these grade levels. Tables 3-4 and 3-5 identify the multiple

instruments used to operationalize these constructs for seventh and

eighth grades respectively.

Commercial Measures of Science Content and Problem Solving

Measures of science content were administered both before, as

protests, and after each 3-week unit of study at each grade level. These

commercially-produced content measures were part of the evaluation


Table 3-4

Commercial and Researcher-Constructed Measures Used to Evaluate the Constructs for this Study
(Seventh Grade)

Hypothesis Construct
(dependent variable)

1 Recall Science
Content Knowledge

2 Transfer Problem
Solving Ability in

Attitudes Toward


Genetics Chapter
(low-level items)

Animal Behavior
Chapter Subtest
(low-level items)

Genetics Chapter
(high-level items)

Nuclear Reactor

Animal Behavior
Chapter Subtest
(high-level items)

Animal Behavior

Attitudes Toward
Concept Mapping

Attitudes Toward
Cooperative Learning

Possible Score

41 Commercial

54 Commercial

30 Commercial

15 Researcher-

6 Commercial

40 Researcher-

14 items Researcher-
(Likert Scale) Constructed

16 items Researcher-
(Likert Scale) Constructed

Table 3-5

Commercial and Researcher-Constructed Measures Used to Evaluate the Constructs for this Study

(Eighth Grade)

Hypothesis Construct
(dependent variable)

1 Recall Science
Content Knowledge

Transfer Problem
Solving Ability in Science

Attitudes Toward


Solids, Liquids,
and Gases
Chapter Subtest
(low-level items)

Atomic Structure
Chapter Subtest
(low-level items)

Solids, Liquids,
and Gases
Chapter Subtest
(high-level items)


Bell Jar

Atomic Structure
Chapter Subtest
(high-level items)

Attitudes Toward
Concept Mapping

Attitudes Toward
Cooperative Learning

Possible Score

38 Commercial

17 Commercial

6 Commercial

5 Researcher-
(Novak & staff, 1981)

8 Researcher-

30 Commercial

14 items Researcher-
(Likert Scale) Constructed

16 items Researcher-
(Likert Scale) Constructed

program accompanying the student text and were, therefore, regarded as

the most appropriate instruments for operationally defining the

variables under consideration.

The two content tests administered to seventh graders were from

chapters on Genetics and Animal Behavior from Merrill's Focus on Life

Science (Heimler & Daniel, 1987). The two eighth grade tests were from

chapters on Atomic Structure and Solids, Liquids, and Gases from

Merrill's Focus on Physical Science (Heimler & Price, 1989). These tests

were divided into sections designed to measure different levels of

learning (See Tables 3-6 and 3-7). Introductory test sections included

multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank items aimed at evaluating

recognition or recall of concepts and ideas. Middle sections included

items designated as measuring the understanding of relationships

among facts and concepts. The last section entitled Using Concepts

included items designed to measure a student's ability to apply concepts

introduced in the chapter to new situations and was regarded by the

publisher as the most challenging section of the test.

Prior to test administration, each chapter test was examined by

two members of the teacher support group to evaluate the publisher's

claims regarding test sections and corresponding measurement of levels

of learning (recall vs. problem solving). Although they generally agreed

with the publisher's recommendations, questions were raised about the

criteria used to determine item difficulty. Members of the teacher

Table 3-6

Specifications for Merrill Chapter Tests: Animal Behavior and Genetics (Grade 7)

Section Title Item Types Learning Level (Merrill) Number of Test Items

Animal Behavior Genetics

A Understanding

B Interpreting

C Using

D Completing

Multiple Choice

Term Selection;

Short Answer;

Fill in Blanks


Discovering Relationships



Table 3-7

Specifications for Merrill Chapter Tests: SolidsLiquids. and Gases and Atomic Structure (Grade 8)

Section Title Item Types Learning Level (Merrill) Number of Test Items

Solids, Liquids, & Gases Atomic Structure

I Testing Multiple Choice Recognition/Recall 28 17

II Understanding Short Answer Discovering Relationships; 10 30
Concepts Interpreting Information
Compare and Contrast

III Applying Essay Application 6 NA

Note: Items from Section III of the Atomic Structure chapter test measured content not discussed by the 8th grade teacher.

support group considered certain items designated as high level as

measuring little more than rote learning. These items were identified

and reclassified for the data analysis (Table 3-8).

To enhance content validity, the two classroom teachers involved

in the study investigated the spread of items included in the chapter tests

with regard to content. To assure that the tests were an accurate

representation of what was actually taught, they eliminated items

measuring content not discussed and concluded that the number of

remaining questions addressing each topic was in proportion to the

amount of time spent discussing that topic (See Table 3-9).

Application of Genetics commercial measure. The Genetics

pretest was composed of the 15 multiple choice items and the 14 fill-in-

the-blank items from the chapter test that measured low-level learning

skills such as recognition or recall of information. These items were

exactly the same as those administered on the posttest. The section of

the Genetics chapter test geared for recognizing higher levels of learning

was not administered as part of the pretest. Both the classroom and

support teachers thought that testing the unfamiliar content presented

in this advanced section (Punnett Square applications) before instruction

began might frustrate students and introduce a negative attitude toward

studying the subject matter. In addition, the support staff considered the

science content pretest as a valid assessment of prior knowledge for the

Punnett Square items. This decision was based on the belief that

Table 3-8

Items Teacher-Categorized by Cognitive Level (Low: Recognition/Recall or High: Application and above)

Unit Basic Facts Basic Facts Transfer Problem Transfer Problem Transfer Problem
Pretests Posttests Solving Pretests Solving Posttests Solving Postttests
(commercial) (commercial) (commercial/researcher) (commercial) (teacher-constructed)

Low Level 29 41 29 0 0
High Level 0 0 0 30 (Punnett Square) Nuclear Reactor (Range: 0-15)

Low Level 54 54 0 0 0
High Level 0 0 6 (Ear Sequence) 6 (Ear Sequence) BehaviorVideo
Behavior Video (Range: 0-40) (Range: 0-40)

Low Level 10 38 10 0 0
High Level 0 0 0 6 (Changing Pressure) 5 (Winebottle)
Balloon Demo
(Range: 0-8)

Low Level 17 17 0 0
High Level 0 0 30 (Isotopes) 30 (Isotopes)

Note: Ranges are indicated when student scores are calculated by totalling the number of correct relationships listed.

Table 3-9

Spread of Items Over Content of Interest for Merrill Chapter Tests

Major Topics Percent of Instructional Time Percent of Test Items
Devoted to Topic Devoted to Topic

Genetics Unit
Laws of Inheritance/ 75% 80%
Punnett Square
DNA, RNA, Protein Synthesis 15% 10%
Mitosis/Meiosis 10% 10%

Animal Behavior
Stimulus/Response 18% 10%
Inborn Behavior 20% 15%
Acquired Behavior 12% 15%
Social Behavior 20% 22%
Senses 30% 38%

Solids. Liquids, and Gases
States of Matter/Kinetic Theory 18% 29%
Thermal Expansion 14% 8%
Pressure 40% 29%
Changes of State 14% 24%
Heats of Fusion and Vaporization 14% 10%

Atomic Structure
Elements and Models 19% 19%
Atomic Structure 56% 50%
Atomic Mass/Isotopes 25% 31%

successful performance on these higher level items was directly

dependent upon a knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts

presented in the content pretest. This advanced section was

administered as part of the posttest and regarded as a valid measure of

transfer problem solving by the support staff.

Application of Animal Behavior commercial measure. The

pretest and the posttest for the unit on Animal Behavior were identical

and consisted of the entire chapter test. In this case, the support teachers

believed that seventh graders might be familiar with parts of the content

presented in the various sections and that it was important to identify

this prior knowledge. With the exception of six items designated as

measuring higher levels of learning, this entire instrument consisted of

items requiring low-level recall of science information for successful


Application of Atomic Structure commercial measure. The

pretest and the posttest for the eighth grade unit on Atomic Structure

were identical and each composed of 17 multiple choice items. These

items were aimed at measuring recall or recognition of information.

The section of this chapter test designed to measure higher learning

levels was used as the measure of transfer problem solving for this unit

and will be discussed in the next section.

Application of Solids, Liquids, and Gases commercial measure.

The pretest for the unit on Solids, Liquids, and Gases included 10 items

intended to measure relationships among facts and concepts. The eighth

grade teacher and a member of the support staff thought that these items

reflected the main concepts presented in this chapter and would give a

quick indication of prior knowledge. Responses to these items were

limited to "increases, decreases, or remains the same" and these items

also composed part of the posttest. The posttest also

included 28 multiple choice items and a section analyzing changes in

pressure that was regarded as a valid measure of meaningful learning

and will be discussed in the next section.

Pretests. The fact that the formats of the four different protests

administered in this study were not uniform is not considered a

weakness of this study. Differences in chapter test formats between the

7th and 8th grade textbooks and differences in the nature of the subject

matter and the extent of its coverage influenced pretest item selection.

On all of these protests, students were encouraged to make a best guess if

they understood what was being discussed and to leave items blank if

they had no idea of the answer.

Measures of Transfer Problem Solving

It is hypothesized that students who have meaningfully learned a

topic can assimilate new, related information into their cognitive

structures (Ausubel, 1968). Novak (1981) and others have put a great

amount of effort into constructing measures to evaluate an individual's

ability to transfer newly acquired information presented in a novel

event into existing cognitive structure. Such measures of transfer

problem solving should present a situation or event requiring the

student to utilize content related to the unit of study but presented in a

different context. These measures should require an understanding of

the designated key unit concepts for successful performance and include

a list of concept terms to provide limits and set parameters. Students can

then attempt to explain the posed situation or event in writing by

relating their understanding of the unit concepts to the event. If the

concepts have not been learned meaningfully, student explanations will

not show a relationship between the unit concepts and the specified


Although some worksheets and cognitive test items from the

Merrill program were intended to measure application of new

knowledge to novel situations, the support teachers who examined

these materials did not always agree that items included in the section

Using Concepts were adequate or challenging enough to be used as valid

measures of this dependent variable. Therefore, additional measures

were constructed by the researcher, with help from the support teachers

and the eighth grade classroom teacher participating in this study,

according to guidelines presented by Novak (1981).

Higher level Genetics measures. The Punnett Square questions

mentioned earlier that were included in the commercially-produced

Genetics chapter test were designated a valid measure of meaningful

learning by the support teachers. These individuals agreed that

successful completion of these items required that students had a basic

understanding of the concepts presented in the text, could form

judgments about these concepts, and could apply them to new

situations. In addition, seventh graders completed a researcher-

constructed measure presenting a scenario

requiring them to describe the possible consequences of a nuclear power

plant disaster.

Higher level Animal Behavior measures. With the exception of

six items evaluating student knowledge of the hearing process in the

human ear, the chapter test from the unit on Animal Behavior did not

include items considered valid measures of transfer problem solving.

An additional measure was constructed by the researcher in which

students observed 14 isolated video segments of various animal

behaviors and attempted to explain these behaviors using accurate and

appropriate terminology. These segments were chosen to illustrate

examples of such behaviors as acquired or inborn behavior, territoriality,

and use of pheromones.

Higher level Solids, Liquids, and Gases measures. Three transfer

problem solving measures were considered appropriate for the eighth

grade unit on Solids, Liquids, and Gases. One of these was from the

publisher-constructed chapter test and evaluated student knowledge of

changes in pressure. A second measure was the Winebottle Test first

used by Novak and staff (1981) in their study of middle school concept

mappers. The Winebottle Test was designated a valid measure of

meaningful learning in this earlier study and is considered a classic

model for construction of new transfer problem solving measures. For

the Winebottle Test, students were presented with an event, a cork

popping out of a warmed, empty wine bottle, and required to explain the

event using related concepts such as expansion and kinetic energy that

they had just studied. For the third higher level measure in the Solids,

Liquids, and Gases Unit, students were asked to observe and react to a

demonstration illustrating changes in pressure within a system. A

partially inflated balloon was placed inside of a bell jar attached to a

vacuum pump. As air was drawn out of the bell jar, and the balloon

expanded, students were asked to carefully observe what was happening

and use appropriate terminology to describe their observations.

Higher level Atomic Structure measure. The transfer problem

solving measure for the unit on Atomic Structure required students to

draw isotopes of atoms they had not formally studied. This measure was

a slight modification of that included with the chapter test. Examples of

all problem solving measures are included as Appendices D, E, F, and G.

Pretests. The transfer problem solving measures for the units on

Animal Behavior and Atomic Structure were administered as protests

before any instruction on these units was given. Identical protests were

not given for the Genetics or Solids, Liquids, and Gases transfer problem

solving measures. The classroom and support teachers considered it

acceptable to use the science content protests as protests for these more

difficult transfer problem solving measures. This decision was based

upon the assumption that successful performance on these transfer

problem solving measures would depend directly upon knowledge and

understanding of the basic concepts presented in the science content


Content validity for researcher-constructed transfer problem

solving measures. The researcher-constructed transfer problem solving

measures for Genetics, Animal Behavior, and Solids, Liquids and Gases

did not consist of a specific number of test items but were open ended

and could satisfactorily be completed with a number of statements

demonstrating conceptual relationships. To determine the content

validity of these measures or how well and in what proportions they

represented the appropriate universe of unit content, concept maps were

constructed for each unit by the classroom teachers and used as a basis for

content evaluation. The transfer problem solving measures were

discussed with reference to these staff-prepared maps of the topics, skills,

and abilities considered representative of the content area being studied.

The project staff agreed that correct responses to these transfer problem

solving measures could be drawn from propositional statements

distributed evenly throughout these maps (See Figures 3-1, 3-2,

3-3, and 3-4).

Measures of Attitudes Toward the Instructional Experience

Two separate 5-point Likert scales were used to evaluate student

attitudes toward the learning strategies employed in this study. One scale

was constructed to assess student attitudes toward concept mapping (14

items) and the other to assess student attitudes toward cooperative

learning (16 items). Items were grouped into categories on the basis of

how they affected a student's thinking, feeling, or acting about the

particular strategy. The Thinking-Feeling-Acting Questionnaire for

evaluating concept mapping in this study was adapted from a measure

developed by Heinze-Fry and Novak (1990) for use with college biology

students, which consisted of 25 statements generated from student

comments to open-ended questions. It was adapted by this researcher to

accommodate middle school students and the unique characteristics of

this study. A similar measure following the same format and theme as

the concept mapping measure was researcher-constructed for cooperative

learning. These measures are included as Appendices H and I.

study of

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Figure 3-1. Teacher constructed concept map for the unit on Genetics.

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Figure 3-2. Teacher constructed concept map for the unit on Anial Behavior.

Figure 3-2. Teacher constructed concept map for the unit on Animal Behavior.

Figure 3-3. Teacher constructed concept map for the unit on Solids, Liquids, and Gases.

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according to increasing


Atomic Number

Figure 3-4. Teacher constructed concept map for the unit on Atomic Structure.

Students working in cooperative learning groups without

mapping completed the cooperative learning measure only. Students

working on concept maps independently completed the concept mapping

measure only. Students constructing concept maps in cooperative

learning groups completed both measures.

Three members of the teacher support group assessed the content

validity of these two attitudinal measures. They agreed that the items

categorized as indicators of thinking, feeling, or acting processes were

appropriately placed and in proportion to the overall emphases of the

study. It was their judgment that these measures would provide a fair

indication of how seventh and eighth graders thought and felt about

these two strategies.

Analyses were conducted to determine the reliability of the

attitude measures used in this study. To determine the consistency of

responses across items, the Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient was

estimated. The reliability coefficient for the entire cooperative learning

attitudinal instrument was .72. When the "thinking" and "feeling"

subsections were analyzed, the reliability for the cooperative "thinking"

subsection was .53 and the reliability for the cooperative "feeling"

subsection was .39. The reliability coefficient for the entire concept

mapping attitudinal instrument was .37. When the subsections were

analyzed, the reliability coefficient for the mapping "thinking" subsection

was .61 and the reliability for the mapping "feeling" subsection was .10.


Selection of sections. The science teachers at both grade levels each

selected two science textbook units on topics that students were unlikely

to have encountered in depth in prior science instruction. These units

included supplementary materials for mastery and evaluation. All

students at each grade level, regardless of learning mode, were

responsible for mastering the same unit content. The researcher

randomly assigned (a) one section in which students constructed concept

maps of the material independently, (b) a second section in which

students covered the material in cooperative learning groups without

concept mapping, and (c) a third section in which students constructed

concept maps of the material in cooperative learning groups.

Learning to Learn instruction. All students initially received a

uniform introduction to the Learning to Learn activities of Novak (1980).

Pilot studies have shown that this 1- or 2-period introduction to the

nature of concepts and meaningful learning can avoid confusion in

subsequent concept mapping instruction (Novak et al., 1983). This

introduction was presented to all students in all sections so that it could

not be interpreted as a confounding variable.

A brief example of how concepts can be organized hierarchically

was also presented, but only to the two groups of students at each grade

level who would be constructing concept maps either individually or

cooperatively. This procedure is considered part of actual concept map

construction (Novak & Gowin, 1984). This presentation included the

idea that a variety of hierarchical possibilities can exist for a group of

concepts depending upon an individual's understanding or

interpretation of these concepts. This example was the same for students

constructing concept maps at both grade levels and unrelated to the

science content introduced later.

Group selection. Teachers selected groups of three members each

for the sections working cooperatively. Students were first ranked from

highest to lowest using base scores calculated by the appropriate teacher.

These scores were determined from science performance prior to the

time of this study. Group composition included one high, middle, and

low performer as indicated by these base scores. Students were not aware

of the procedure used for selection of cooperative learning groups.

The first cooperative group was formed by selecting the student at

the top of the list, the student at the bottom of the list, and the student in

the middle of the list. The second group was composed of the student

second from the top, the student second from the bottom, and a middle

student one up or one down from the first middle selection. Students

were thus assigned to groups unless all members were of the same sex or

group composition did not reflect the ethnic composition of the class. In

these cases, the teacher moved one place up or down the list to make the

group selections and maintained heterogeneity with respect to gender,

ethnicity, and achievement (Johnson et al., 1986). Group composition

was also slightly readjusted if two best friends or worst enemies were

assigned to the same group or if an isolated student needed to be placed

with supportive individuals. Teachers found this grouping procedure

was facilitated by using individual name cards that could be shuffled

until group selection seemed satisfactory.

Introduction to learning strategies. Students who constructed

concept maps independently received an introduction to concept

mapping theory and construction followed by a practice exercise using

guidelines provided by Novak and Gowin (1984). Students who worked

in cooperative learning groups to master the unit content without

concept mapping were introduced to the organization and expectations of

working cooperatively using examples and practice exercises suggested by

Johnson and Johnson (1987) and Cohen (1986). Students who

constructed concept maps in cooperative learning groups to master the

unit content received introductory instruction and practice in both

concept mapping and cooperative learning. These introductory

explanations and examples required two class periods and were the same

for students at both grade levels and unrelated to the science content

introduced later.

Teacher instruction. Each teacher explained and clarified all

specific procedures and expectations for each treatment group. Students

working cooperatively were reminded that their major group task was to

make sure all group members were prepared to be successful on

measures of individual achievement. Forms of materials, reward, and

goal interdependence were established. Teachers explained that groups

would be monitored and data for feedback collected and that processing

time would be provided to discuss how well collaborative skills were

being used.

The collaborative skills stressed were listening carefully to one

another, encouraging participation of all members, criticizing

constructively, and not agreeing unless logically persuaded to do so when

challenging worksheet answers or conceptual placements on a concept

map. T-Charts (Johnson et al., 1986) (See Appendix C) were used to

discuss how these skills could effectively be practiced. These charts

provide a format for demonstrating behaviors that reflect correct usage of

certain collaborative skills.

Students were informed that a facilitator had been selected by the

teacher from each group. It was explained that these individuals were

not leaders, as leadership responsibilities were shared among all group

members, but chosen to help the teacher be assured that all students

participate and derive the maximum benefit from group involvement.

Students working cooperatively were informed of their individual

base scores in a manner that assured privacy and were told that up to five

bonus points would be awarded to all members of every group in which

each individual achieved his/her base score or better on measures of

individual achievement. In addition, the maximum number of bonus

points would not be awarded unless the teacher believed that the group

had practiced their collaborative skills conscientiously. Students working

independently were also informed of their base scores and told that

bonus points were available to them if they achieved their base scores or

better on the individual achievement test.

Teachers then gave introductory lessons on the unit content.

Following this instruction, each teacher distributed a list of 15 to 20 key

concepts with definitions that the teacher had discussed and identified as

critical to understanding the unit. These terms were among those

emphasized in the text and selected with both the hierarchical and cross-

link elements of a concept map in mind. All students were asked to

study these key terms and carefully read related textual information.

Hierarchical organization of terms. Students constructing concept

maps independently used scissors to cut out the 15 to 20 concept names

and accompanying definitions from the handout and organized them

hierarchically with clusters where appropriate. Students working in

cooperative groups without concept mapping began to complete a single

packet of worksheets that they would all be required to sign upon

completion signifying their agreement and understanding of the content.

Students constructing concept maps in cooperative learning groups first

individually cut out and organized the 15 to 20 concept names

hierarchically, then met with their group members before submitting a

single, final, signed conceptual arrangement.

Completion of concept maps or content packet. Students working

with concept maps selected an additional 10 or more conceptual terms

from reading material, class discussions, or personal experiences, and

recorded these additional concepts and their definitions onto paper.

They then received sheets of rectangular stickers with the original 15 to

20 concept names in large print and as many blank rectangular stickers as

were needed to record their additional 10 or more conceptual terms.

Students constructing concept maps then cut out all the conceptual terms

and proceeded to organize them on large sheets of white paper.

Students working on concept maps independently integrated the

additional 10 conceptual terms into their existing hierarchies,

reorganizing and clustering where appropriate. Students were not yet

allowed to permanently affix the conceptual terms onto the paper. The

teachers monitored individual work by clarifying concepts, raising

questions, and encouraging summarization, elaboration, and evaluation

of important concepts and propositions. Students in this condition were

not allowed to discuss conceptual arrangements with peers any more

than in a traditional setting. Students completed their concept map

organization, affixed the rectangular pieces onto the large piece of paper,

and formed propositions by drawing and labelling connecting lines.

Students were encouraged to find "cross-links" connecting related

concepts from different hierarchical portions of the map.

Students working in cooperative learning groups without

mapping continued to work on their packets. The teachers monitored

these groups by clarifying concepts, raising questions, and encouraging

summarization, elaboration, and evaluation of important ideas.

Appropriate criticism of another's responses and subsequent negotiation

were encouraged. The packet of materials was completed with group


Students working on concept maps in cooperative learning

groups reached agreement on which additional conceptual terms

merited inclusion in their concept map and at what level. The teachers

monitored these groups by clarifying concepts, raising questions, and

encouraging summarization, elaboration, and evaluation of important

concepts and propositions. Each cooperative group worked together to

complete its concept map organization, affixed the rectangular pieces

onto the large piece of paper, and drew and labelled propositional lines.

Appropriate criticism of conceptual placements, another's responses,

and subsequent negotiation were encouraged. Students were

encouraged to find "cross-links" connecting related concepts from

different hierarchical portions of the map. The concept maps were

completed with group consensus.

Data Collection and Scoring

Procedures for test administration were uniform for all classes at

both grade levels. Data for the measures of science achievement and

transfer problem solving ability were collected at the end of each 3-week

unit of study in science. Data from the attitudinal measures were

collected once at the completion of the last 3-week unit.

All measures of science content were paper and pencil tests that

could be completed in one class period. Measures of transfer problem

solving focused upon a particular event that could be represented by a lab

demonstration, segment of videotape, or a written explanation.

Credit was accumulated for the transfer problem solving measures

on the basis of the quality and quantity of recorded propositional

statements. Some of these measures required a well-defined set of

appropriate responses, and points were awarded on the basis of how

many of these elements were present. Others were more conducive to a

wide range of responses and points were accumulated on the basis of the

number of valid conceptual relationships listed.

When the Winebottle Test was administered in the 1981 study

(Novak and staff), points were accumulated on the basis of the number of

valid conceptual relationships listed. For example, a statement reflecting

the fact that the air in a warmed, closed container expands would receive

one point. A relationship such as this was considered analogous to a

propositional component of a concept map. In this study, a holistic

approach to grading the Winebottle question was adopted. Project staff

decided that an acceptable answer to this question should include certain

components and recommended awarding a maximum of five points for

student responses including this information. Slightly less elaboration

merited a score of four or three points respectively, two points were

awarded if the basic idea that particles expand and the cork pops off the

bottle was included, and one point if only one or two simple facts were


The grading procedures used for the transfer problem solving

measures on Genetics and Animal Behavior were also based upon the

quantity and quality of the propositional relationships listed. However,

these measures allowed for acceptance of a large number of key concepts,

and therefore a larger number of conceptual relationships, than the

Winebottle Test or balloon demonstration. For this reason, members of

the support staff suggested an open-ended system of tallying

relationships for these measures rather than using a holistic approach.

However, as staff members began evaluating these measures, they

discovered that each measure presented its own unique set of problems

that needed to be addressed.

One problem presented by the Genetics measure was the difficulty

distinguishing between a short, less detailed propositional statement and a

more complete response carefully elaborating one particular point. A

distinction also needed to be made between valid responses using science

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