Supporting Students in Synthesizing Research to Construct Conceptual Understanding: A School-to-Prison pipeline concept-mapping lesson



School-to-Prison Pipeline, Constructivism, Concept Mapping, College Courses


The tool described in this paper supports students in synthesizing findings from various studies in order to understand a complex concept. The instructor designs an inquiry question that drives students’ exploration of the central concept. Students read very brief summaries of a number of studies and then physically group and organize the summaries, creating a concept map that illustrates the relationships between various components of the concept. Next, Students’ understanding is refined as they articulate their answers to the inquiry question to the whole class and the instructor provides formal instruction on the concept. Finally, the concept is applied to new cases and the instructor provides additional resources for students to pursue. In this process, students emulate the type of rigorous intellectual work that scholars do in a literature review. However, that thinking work is made more manageable and accessible by providing a high level of structure and condensing research findings into brief summaries. This enables students to take an active role in constructing conceptual understanding. This paper explains how the author applies it to teach about the school-to-prison pipeline in a classroom management unit of a teacher education course, but it can be applied to complex concepts from any discipline.

Author Biography

Sara G. Lam, University of Minnesota Morris

Dr. Sara G. Lam is an Assistant Professor of Educaction at the University of Minnesota Morris. Her areas of focus for teaching and research include educational justice, democratic education, democratic participation in education, and rural education in China and the U.S. She is a co-founder and board member of the Rural China Education Foundation.


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