Science drawings are not the same as artistic drawings. Instead, science drawings represent a model of a real object or even an idea that both scientists and engineers rely heavily upon. With the Next Generation Science Standards mingling with engineering, it’s critical that we bring in scientific drawings. While it may seem like you need a degree in the art sciences, you don’t.
I recall many times when I first started teaching that I would stand at the whiteboard explaining to students a concept, knowing that if I drew it on the board, they would understand it better. But I didn’t want to draw it because that little voice inside my head would whisper “I can’t draw.” I think there may have been a few times I even muttered something along the lines of “Now remember I’m not an artist, so don’t laugh.”
Most teachers are probably just like me, uttering those exact words. And it’s easy for us to lose focus on what’s important. Science drawings are both a learning tool and a diagnostic tool for the classroom. They should not be evaluated based on artistic abilities and when we start acting comfortable drawing, so will students.
The Benefits of Science Drawings
As I mentioned above, drawing in science is very beneficial because it can be used as a learning tool and as a diagnostic tool. You could have students draw an idea or object at the beginning of a lesson and then again at the end to compare what knowledge they gained. It also helps you determine what students understand, what gaps they have, and if there are any misconceptions. For instance, if you ask a student to draw an insect and they draw it with eight legs.
In these images, I’m able to tell right away which of my students understand the parts of a pupa and which do not.
The other benefits include:
- Can be used in any grade level (start in the early grades at the concrete level and work into the more abstract levels, similar to how we things in math found in my post, Teaching Math, so Students Get It.)
- Images help English language learners, and students with special needs understand better and better express the information.
- Visual representation helps everyone collect, process, and understand information better.
- It requires metacognitive thinking skills such as when analyzing an object, evaluating which parts to include, deciding where to place elements, or making judgments about the size, color, and shape.
- Students are more motivated and engaged.
- It assists in the development of visual-spatial thinking.
- It is a hands-on, minds-on activity.
- When incorporating writing, you can use transitional words when showing sequence, process, and cause/effect relationships.
- It helps the brain make connects that are necessary for longer retention.
- Scientists and engineers use it in real life!
Using Science Drawings in the Classroom
Science drawings can be used in nearly every aspect of science. The main point of using them is for students to observe an object (such as a pupa) or a concept (such as force applied to a moving object). Then, students would sketch a model and describe it.
The most common form of scientific drawings in the classroom is diagrams, though there are other types of drawings. Diagrams show parts of an object or parts of a bigger idea. An example would be like a simple circuit or the water cycle. Diagrams involve labels that connect to the parts of the diagram with straight line segments and should not crowd in the drawing or cross. See the example below.
Other types of scientific drawings would include panels that show sequence, process, comparing and contrasting, or cause and effect. These could consist of line segments, double lines, lines with arrows, or even wavy lines to represent motion. Life cycles don’t always have to be expressed in circles – they can be described in panels with changing elements in each box.
When students are creating diagrams, make sure to ask probing questions. For instance, a child may draw a grasshopper with a smiley face. Does the child believe that a grasshopper can smile, or is it an artistic feature? If the child did it for fun, remind the child it’s important to keep science drawings simple, accurate, and as close to the real thing as possible. The best way to describe this is to have the child pretend they are drawing it for someone who has never seen it before.
Consider having students share their sketches to provide students with multiple perspectives and to help refine their thinking. This would also help facilitate discussion.
Creating scientific drawings is critical if we are going to truly prepare students to be like scientists and engineers.
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