Welcome to the new Teaching & Learning column at ArtPlantae. This column celebrates the link between drawing and knowing. Articles related to the teaching and learning of plants, art, and nature will be published every Friday. Subscribe to this site by clicking on the “Follow” tab in your browser’s window to be notified when new articles are published or join the email list to receive weekly updates.
SEEING WITH GRAPHITE EYES
When student Samuel Scudder, an aspiring entomologist, told Harvard University professor Louis Agassiz that he wanted to study entomology, Agassiz handed him a fish to observe. After looking at this boring pickled fish for a period of time, Scudder began to draw it. When Agassiz re-entered the room he said to his student, “That is right, a pencil is one of the best eyes.”
No one reading this post needs to be convinced that you learn more about a subject when you draw it. We’ve all experienced it ourselves. Today we take a look at what sixth graders at three Vermont schools experienced as they engaged in a year-long curriculum designed to enhance their observation skills and their appreciation for trees.
Three teachers began this year-long project by spending a day with an environmental educator/illustrator to learn how to use nature journals as tools for observation. Environmental educators then visited each school to work with groups of students and to help them select the trees they would observe during the school year.
Throughout the year, students recorded observations in their sketchbooks. As the year progressed, they recorded more than simple morphological features and simple updates. They began to record and describe the growth patterns they were observing and began to formulate hypotheses based on their observations.
Students’ record keeping started as simple pictures, became pictures with labels, and evolved into written observations. Students were given the freedom to label their illustrations using their own words, thereby making each illustration a unique record of their understanding. Teachers then taught students the technical botanical terms of the morphological features recorded in their journals.
Changes in student observation skills were assessed using a rubric — a set of defined criteria used to evaluate performance. In this study, the criteria assessed included the amount of written and visual details present in a student’s journal, as well as a student’s demonstrated improvement of fine motor control as observed in student drawings. A thorough evaluation of student journals uncovered that students began the project drawing simple tree symbols. At the close of the project, student observation skills had improved, as did their enthusiasm for their respective trees.
Upon the conclusion of this year-long activity, the three teachers involved with the project felt their students learned from the drawing experience and each proclaimed they would continue their use of journals in the classroom.
How to obtain a copy of A Pencil is One of the Best Eyes:
- Purchase a back issue of Connect, Vol. 20 (1), September/October 2006 ($6, incl. postage)
- Read this article in the public archive at SynergyLearning.com.