Conversations about natural science illustration usually occur among adults interested in a broad range of topics pertaining to the fields of art and science.
However, younger audiences can also be found to engage in similar conversation. Take for example, the students of Kathryn Kaatz. A kindergarten teacher in Minnesota, Kaatz begins each school year with an activity that trains students to become observant science artists. Kaatz describes this activity in A Walk in the Tall, Tall Grass.
Early in the school year, Kaatz (2008) reads In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming to introduce students to the plants and animals living in meadows and grasslands. This introduction is followed by a field trip to a reclaimed prairie. The objective of this field trip is to do more than look for the plants and animals students learned about in the book. The objective is to prepare students to become thoughtful observers and scientific illustrators.
During their field trip, students look at the types of grasses growing in the prairie, inspect seed heads, and identify grass species by using the photographic field guide Kaatz (2008) created for parent volunteers. While in the field, Kaatz (2008) makes it a point not spend too much time telling students what to observe and how to observe. She says she is more interested in letting students make their own discoveries.
Back in the classroom, however, Kaatz (2008) carefully guides students when they sit down to observe grass plants in more detail. Her thoughtful and methodical approach to enhancing student observation skills begins with a reading of What is a scientist? by Barbara Lehn and by emphasizing something of great importance that all scientists do — draw what they see. Aspiring to make students more thoughtful observers and recorders of information, Kaatz (2008) takes the time to discuss with students the differences between scientific drawing and artistic drawing. She then sits down with a vase of grass specimens and models how to observe and how to draw the grass specimens she brought into the classroom. In her article, Kaatz (2008) shares how she talks to herself during her demonstration. Kaatz (2008) says she says things like:
Hmmm….I can see the stem goes all the way to the bottom of the vase, so I guess I’ll make a line like this.
Oops, (the lines) aren’t so straight but I guess that’s O.K. When I look at the grass, I see things in nature aren’t perfect either.
Upon concluding her demonstration, Kaatz (2008) presents her scientific drawing to her students. She then instructs students to draw at least three different grass specimens and reminds students that scientists only draw what they see.
Having taught this activity for several years, Kaatz (2008) says she is always pleased with how seriously students observe the grass specimens and how thoughtfully they compose their scientific drawings. By showing students how to observe and how to create scientific drawings early in the year, Kaatz’s students are prepared to “draw as scientists” (Kaatz, 2008) all year long.
Learn more about how Kathyrn Kaatz teaches this activity in her classroom by buying a copy of her article online for 99¢ at the NSTA Learning Center.
Kaatz, Kathryn. 2008. A Walk in the Tall, Tall Grass. Science and Children. 45(6): 28-31.
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