The past two weeks, we’ve looked at the critical role families play in reinforcing the value of the arts and at how the arts can be used to take advantage of how we learn and make meaning. This week, we take a look at tools and techniques demonstrated to improve observation skills and enhance learning.
Earlier this Spring we learned of the work by professor Joe Dirnberger and his colleagues when they wrote about reviving the use of naturalist journals in the classroom. In a follow-up paper, Dirnberger (2006) brings attention to the similar approach scientists and artists take when observing the world and suggests seven ways learners can be encouraged to keep a naturalist’s journal. Citing examples of how his students have benefited from documenting their experiences in the field and the lab, Dirnberger (2006) provides insight into how journals can be used effectively, how to encourage students to record and synthesize information, and how to grade student journals. Dirnberger’s recommendations can be viewed in Drawing on Nature.
In Journals of Discovery, Cathy Livingston cites the power of visual thinking. Livingston (2005) openly shares what she and her students have experienced about how students learn while recording observations and thoughts in a journal. Livingston’s students did more than just draw plants, animals and things. They drew what they read. Students visualized their vocabulary words to enhance their understanding of these new words. When reading Livingston (2005), you may also want to read about the six fundamentals of visual note taking to help you visualize the types of learning that could take place if pictures were used to describe words. Translating vocabulary words into pictures is extremely helpful, especially in disciplines drowning in terminology like botany. If you have a copy of Plant Identification Terminology by Harris & Harris (2001), just think about how much you rely on this extremely helpful book that pairs each botanical term with a descriptive illustration. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Are you bored with spiral-bound sketchbooks? Try scrolls!
Educator Jessica Levine will help you think beyond 9″ x 12″ pieces of paper in Scrolls as Science Journals. Levine (2004) explains how scrolls allow observers to record changes over time and how the format of the standard sketchbook can interfere with learning. She suggests topics lending themselves to documentation in a scrolling format and provides examples of a scroll created with photographic images and a scroll created with original drawings and written entries. Imagine if Maria Sibylla Merian recorded her observations about metamorphosis on scrolls. Would she have noticed patterns never before recorded?
Levine (2004) also provides examples of how she has used scrolls with students and includes instructions on how to make three types of scrolling journals. Her instructions can be adapted to use the papers, paints, pencils and other supplies favored by botanical illustrators and sketchbook artists.
How do you help learners see plants through drawing?
Do you have a favorite sketchbook?
A unique approach to journaling?
Share your experiences in the comment box below.
The articles by Dirnberger, Levine and Livingston are available at college libraries and available for purchase from the National Science Teachers Association (99¢).
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