Article: Drawn to Natural History: Facilitation advice and classroom examples for instructors integrating drawing into science classes

This summer, a publication I led was published in the academic journal Natural Sciences Education. Like other resources I’ve shared, this article aims to ‘demystify’ the use of drawing for teaching and learning in science classrooms.

While the paper reports on ways of doing this in university classes, the advice, examples, and resources in the article will be equally useful for K-12 educators.

The article is available via open-access (for free) at the Natural Sciences Education website. It is also featured here on the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute website and in this Field, Lab, Earth podcast episode, where you’ll find more context about the goals we had for writing this article.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful:

“Humans have drawn to record and synthesize experiences in nature for millennia, and drawing has been integral to doing, learning, and sharing science since its inception.”

“The power and efficacy of drawing as a tool in science has persisted into the modern era (e.g., Ahlers, 2019; King, 1989; Polfus et al., 2017). However, with the advent of cameras, computers, and audio recorders—which were affordable, widely available, and fairly easy to move around—the primacy of hand-written notes and drawing were challenged. The proliferation of stillmore tools and developments in subdisciplines further burden already-overloaded course plans. Some natural science faculty may no longer even perceive drawing as an important skill set (Quillin & Thomas, 2015).

Moreover, as the natural sciences have professionalized and specialized, so too have the arts (Bezruczko & Schroeder, 1994; Codell, 1989). Early in most faculty’s lives, a distinction was likely made between those who are good at STEM disciplines and those who have aptitude for creating in the arts (e.g., Patson, Cropley,Marrone, & Kaufman, 2018). Even faculty who have an affinity for the arts and see the value of sketching in the natural scientist’s toolkit may have, themselves, experienced life-long conditioning to avoid drawing.

Thus, faculty may encounter seemingly insurmountable facilitation obstacles (e.g., Landin, 2015) or may not recognize novice learners’ difficulties with creating visual representations in science (Quillin & Thomas, 2015). The resulting misperceptions of access and ability are a barrier for natural science faculty not directly trained in teaching the arts. And yet, several arguments support re-incorporating drawing and field journals into natural science courses…”

Image credit: From the publication, Copyright, Natural Sciences Education. Image reproduced with the permission of a student whose name is withheld to preserve confidentiality.

FIGURE 5. Sketches can indicate students’ level of observation and knowledge. These two sketches can be identified as depictions of maple leaves (Acer spp.). The student who drew the first sketch (a) did not attend to details such as venation or accuracy of leaf shape. The latter aspect could be addressed by tracing the leaf (see Table 2).

The student who drew the second sketch (b) took more care with their observations but did not follow their questions through to identifying the plant. Considering the detail of this student’s sketches, part (b) likely documents observations of a Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum).

See Figure S5 in the Supplemental Material for full-size images and transcription of students’ notes.

Full citation: Merkle, B.G., B. Barber, and M. Carling. 2020. Drawn to Natural History: Enhancing Field Courses with Drawing and Field Journal Instruction. Natural Sciences Education 49(1): e20019.

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