Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Learning by Drawing

By Russell Tytler and Peter Hubber

Teachers need to encourage science students to develop their representational skills.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Scientists use a range of visual forms to imagine new relations, test ideas and elaborate knowledge, with digital technologies increasingly used to construct elaborate maps, 3D simulations, graphs or enhanced photographs. These visual tools are not simply passive communication devices but actively shape how we build knowledge in science.

Students in school are exposed to many of these images in textbooks or on the internet. Learning how to interpret them is an important part of science education. However, it is rare that students are encouraged or supported to create their own visual forms to develop and show understanding.

Learning science requires students to develop representational skills by sketching cells observed through a microscope, inventing a way to show a scientific phenomenon like evaporation, or creating a line graph from a table of values.

We propose five distinct justifications why drawing should sit alongside reading, writing and talking as a key element of science education.

1. Drawing to enhance engagement. There is evidence that students are more motivated to learn when they draw to explore, co­ordinate and justify their understandings compared with conventional, more transmissive teaching.

2. Drawing to learn to represent in science. Constructing visualisations is a key literacy in science, and constructing their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Russell Tytler is Professor of Science Education and Dr Peter Hubber is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Deakin University. Professor Tytler is a co-author of “Drawing to learn in science”, which was published in the 26 August 2011 edition of Science.