15 Educational Apps in 15 Days: Smart Ideas: The Smarter Concept Mapping Software

When I was learning in Eretz Yisrael in Yeshivat Sha'alvim, I had the privilege to study with Rav Shmuel Nacham. One of the hallmarks of Rav Nacham's rigorous and highly original approach which fused an almost academic approach to Talmud study with the traditional Yeshiva approach focused on a search for the "Emet" the intellectual truth found in a simple reading of the Talmud with the classic medieval commentaries was his use of flowcharts. Rav Nacham would chart out every stage of the Sugya, the Talmudic topic. His use of the board was revolutionary in a world where most Rebbeim of advanced Talmudic study rarely rose from their chair, let alone depended so much on visual aids.

I learned from Nacham not just a love of learning but how to communicate the learning to students through high level visuals. I always planned how my boards would appear and exactly what visuals to include, in my messy handwriting to help make the topic more manageable. Later as educational technologies became available, I was attracted to them for their potential to transform how students were able to perceive and manipulate knowledge. I fell in love with Gemara Berura, a technology assisted methodology for learning Talmud with high level text mapping and flowcharting tools. And I became a certified trainer for the Smart Board and its excellent Smart Notebook presentation software.

Smart Ideas Concept Mapping Software

One of my favorite tools for helping students brainstorm and manipulate ideas with the assistance of the Smart Board has been Smart Ideas. This app which Smart Technologies designed years ago is less well known and utilized than the Smart Notebook software but for many student-centered tasks it can be transformative. It allows students to chart their ideas and connect them to each other in a hierarchical fashion. These ideas can be shape and color coded and the connections themselves can be labeled as well. Most importantly, Smart Ideas is designed for the Smart Board so one can easily write anywhere using a stylus or one's finger and quickly convert the writing into typed text and colored shapes.

Creating a Concept Map

One can write using an empty canvas or use one of its dozens of its predesigned templates like the essay planning template featured in the screenshot below.

All the ideas contained in these shapes and connections are automatically converted into an outline format.

This outline can then be exported to Word or some other word processing format to utilize when composing an essay or paper.

Applications for the Classroom

Smart Ideas can be excellent in almost any unit to visualize higher order concepts in Talmud or science, create timelines in order to sequence events in history or Tanach, or plan writing assignments in English class. I have found it to be especially useful for students with different abilities who need to talk through and visualize their writing before they put their words on paper. One can even embed flowcharts within a flowchart so one can for example make a basic timeline of events and then have a flowchart embedded within each event containing details about who was involved and cause and effect.

Smart Ideas is an oldie but an essential tool for helping our students manipulate ideas which is a central component to what we aspire to do in the classroom.