National Pollinator Week does more than bring attention to the transfer of pollen between flowers. It reminds us of the complex interactions between flora and fauna. By “fauna”, I don’t just mean non-human animals. Humans are part of the equation too, as I pointed out when sharing an article about dairy-farming during the Ask The Artist event with Mindy Lighthipe.
Children begin learning about organisms and their life cycles in kindergarten. One way to help children build an understanding of ecosystems is through drawing. The creation of a learning environment centered around drawing activities is the focus of Methods and Strategies: Using Drawing Strategically, an article by Shawn Glynn, a professor of educational psychology and science education, and K. Denise Muth, a professor of middle school education.
The drawing activities discussed in Glynn & Muth (2008) were developed during inservice teacher workshops. Each activity meets the National Science Education Standards required to understand organisms, their life cycles and their environment.
Glynn & Muth (2008) recommend implementing drawing activities in the life sciences (as well as other disciplines) because they are “hands-on and minds-on” and enable students to synthesize several layers of information.
Drawings also help teachers evaluate student understanding of content (Glynn & Muth, 2008). What students think they know about a topic becomes visible in a drawing. This enables teachers to assess what has been learned and to correct student misconceptions (Glynn & Muth, 2008).
For teachers utilizing drawing as a learning tool, Glynn & Muth (2008) recommend using a drawing activity as a pre-assessment tool because it will show a student’s prior knowledge about a subject. The same drawing activity should also be used as a post-assessment tool to check what has been learned (Glynn & Muth, 2008). The authors explain that teachers can assess what has been learned by evaluating the level of detail between pre- and post-drawings and the accuracy and depth of student notes accompanying each drawing.
Glynn & Muth (2008) bring attention to the following issues teachers should keep in mind when creating a drawing-centered program in the life sciences:
- Students will take to drawing better if their teacher draws too.
- When drawing for students, also refer to actual specimens, photos or videos.
- Think aloud while drawing. Let students hear you think about an organism’s characteristics.
- Remind students they are using drawing as a learning tool and that they will create several draft drawings, drawings that will change as their knowledge grows. Steer them clear of the notion that each drawing must be a final product.
- Give students the option of choosing their own subjects. Glynn & Muth (2008) state students will choose their subjects based on their experiences with a subject. By choosing their own subjects, students will relate their prior knowledge to their current learning experiences.
- Tell students their drawings will be used to teach other people. Glynn & Muth (2008) have observed that students tend to include more details if their drawings will be used to help other people learn.
- Do not interrupt students while they are drawing, thinking and articulating their knowledge in a visual way. The errors you may feel compelled to point out can wait until later.
- Colored pencils are better drawing tools than crayons.
Celebrate the Work of Young Natural Science Illustrators
Glynn & Muth (2008) believe that an “art-conducive classroom” is critical to the success of art-based programs. They recommend establishing a portfolio for each student, praising students about their artwork and new knowledge, and creating a gallery space for student exhibitions.
This article is available for purchase online for 99¢ from the National Science Teachers Association’s Learning Center.
Glynn, Shawn and K. Denise Muth. 2008. Methods and strategies: using drawing strategically. Science and Children. Summer 2008. Pages: 48-51. [accessed 21 June 2011] <http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/4/sc08_045_09_48>