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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Article: Drawn to Natural History: Facilitation advice and classroom examples for instructors integrating drawing in field and lab classes

Updated: Apr 23

Screenshot of the top of the first page of the paper discussed in this blog post. Follow the link (bottom of the blog post) to access a PDF of the whole paper.
Screenshot of the top of the first page of the paper discussed in this blog post

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…”

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