Drawing to learn II

From reading the paper on “Drawing to Learn in Science” in my last blog post, I got browsing the literature and I came across the paper “Drawing to learn: How producing graphical representations enhances scientific thinking” by Fan (2015). There, even more reasons for why we should use drawing in instruction are given.

  • Drawing as a mode to observe the world. If we are asked to draw something, we need to look more closely at the thing we are drawing than if we were just asked to “look” at it. By drawing, for example, individual time steps of the breaking of a wave, will let you understand much more about the physics involved than just mindlessly staring at breaking waves over and over. However, for drawing to be effective as a mode to observe the world, the author points out that the opportunity to reflect upon the drawing needs to be provided, the drawing must be compared against reference knowledge and feedback needs to be given. Especially feedback is crucial, as several studies have shown.
  • Drawing as window into ongoing learning. By observing students draw or looking at finished drawings, we can learn a lot about what students think are important features of the topic of their drawing, and what are not. I have used concept maps to look at the kind of general overview my students had over a the whole field of oceanography, and also to show to them how their view of the field developed over the course of the course, but any drawing can tell you about student misconceptions if you look closely.
  • Drawing to solve problems. When looking at physics problems, if the problem isn’t given in form of a sketch already, the intuitive first step is to draw a sketch and annotate it with the relevant numbers rather than work with a paragraph of text. Drawing in this case is an important skill to solve problems.
  • Drawing to communicate. We have talked about this in the last post, but authors of this paper elaborate on a different very interesting aspect: How drawings follow social norms. The more a group of people draws together, the more similar their drawings become, and the fewer details are necessary to convey the same meaning. This is visible for example when looking at pictograms. The ones that I encounter where I live all make intuitive sense, however when traveling abroad, there are often funny signs where the meaning isn’t at all obvious to visitors…
  • Drawing to explain. The authors give the example of “how a bike pump works” as benefitting from being drawn rather than explained verbally. And as discussed in the last post, drawings are a great basis to convey ideas from.

So once more — drawing is even more important that I thought, and we should definitely provide more drawing opportunities in instruction!

Fan, J. (2015). Drawing to learn: How producing graphical representations enhances scientific thinking. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 1 (2), 170-181 DOI: 10.1037/tps0000037

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