Drawing ’integral’ to science learning

More should be done to encourage students to use their drawing skills in science education, researchers at The University of Nottingham say.

In a paper being published in Science this week, academics say that although producing visualisations is key to scientific thinking, pupils are often not encouraged to create their own drawings to develop and demonstrate their understanding.

In the paper the authors, led by Shaaron Ainsworth in the University’s School of Psychology and Learning Sciences Research Institute, said: “Scientists do not use words only but rely on diagrams, graphs, videos, photographs and other images to make discoveries, explain findings, and excite public interest.

“From the notebooks of Faraday and Maxwell to current professional practices of chemists, scientists imagine new relations, test ideas, and elaborate knowledge through visual representations. However, in the science classroom, learners mainly focus on interpreting others’ visualisations.”

The academics, which also include education experts from La Trobe and Deakin universities in Australia, say that both new and old technologies offer exciting opportunities in supporting the encouragement of drawing in the science classroom and suggest the following five reasons why it should be recognised as a key element in science education alongside writing, reading and talking:

• Drawing to enhance engagement — surveys have shown than when students draw to explain they are more motivated to learn compared to traditional teaching of science

• Drawing to learn to represent in science — the process of producing visual representations helps learners understand how scientific representations work

• Drawing to reason in science —student learn to reason like scientists as they select specific features to focus on in their drawings, aligning it with observation, measurement and/or emerging ideas

• Drawing as a learning strategy — if learners read a text and then draw it, the process of making their understanding visible and explicit helps them to overcome limitations in presented material, organise and integrate their knowledge and ultimately can be transformative
• Drawing to communicate —discussing their drawings with their students provides teachers with windows into students’ thinking as well being a way that the peers can share knowledge, discovery and understanding

Various programmes are in place to promote the use of drawing in science education, such as the Role of Representation in Learning Science (RiLS), and are already beginning to demonstrate success in improving pupils’ understanding and engagement with science.
The researchers recommend that further research is needed in some aspects of this topic, including how new technologies can be used to support learning, what fundamental skills students need to develop to improve learning through drawing and how teachers can best support their students to use drawing alongside writing and discussion in the classroom.

The paper Drawing to Learn in Science is published in the August 26 edition of Science in the Education Forum section of the magazine.

Ainsworth is due to deliver a keynote speech on Understanding and Transforming Multi-Representational Learning at the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) 2011, a major international education conference which is being hosted by the University of Exeter from August 30 to September 5.

International education experts from 40 different countries will be meeting EARLI 2011, the largest conference of its kind in Europe.

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