Visual learning has many benefits, especially in the classroom. Sketching and drawing in particular can be used to develop students’ skills in observation, literacy, and creativity. By sketching, students not only learn how to represent and visually communicate their ideas, they also draw on background knowledge to meaningfully connect their ideas to the real world. Sketching is thus a powerful visualization tool that allows students to develop and express their individual voice, regardless of social, economic, cultural, or academic barriers that may exist.
The potential applications of sketching and drawing are infinite, so I will briefly outline a few possibilities that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.
- Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST): this is a simple exercise where students are asked to draw a scientist/engineer. It reveals important stereotypes that exist in terms of student (and teacher) perceptions of scientists/engineers, and encourages teachers to help students develop more realistic conceptions of these occupations.
- Illustrated nature journal: require students to make weekly journal entries that document their relationship with, and observations of, nature.
- Botanical drawing: use sketching to communicate students’ understanding of plant life cycles and anatomy.
- Visualization: read a piece of scientific text to students and have them communicate what they learned by sketching. This will help to reveal students’ understandings and potential misconceptions.
During practicum, sketching was used many times in the classroom as a visualization strategy that helped students to reflect on and represent their learning. This strategy also helped me to gauge students’ understanding of certain concepts, and to identify any common misconceptions. It was an effective tool for documenting student observations (e.g. functioning of an electrical circuit, planetary configurations in our solar system) and provided a creative outlet for all students.
One activity in particular that demonstrated the students’ imagination and creativity was based on the book Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. This book, which describes the brilliant inventions of a young aspiring (female) engineer, was read aloud to the students. The class discussion then centered on the importance of perseverance and growth mindset: as the main character’s great-great-aunt Rose reminded Rosie, failures are an important and necessary part of life and learning. After being inspired by Rosie’s contraptions in the book, grade 6 students in the class were tasked with brainstorming and sketching their own unique inventions. The results were truly amazing, and highlighted both the interests and ambitions of the students. I think it’s safe to say that there are some future engineers –and imagineers-in the class!
Beaty A, Roberts D. (2013). Rosie Revere, Engineer. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams.
Planting Science. (n.d.) Sketching and drawing in science class (for teachers).