A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Assessing Drawing as a Learning Tool in Science
Moore, Janet C.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Art and science have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, one worth re-examining in our educational practice today. Illustrations convey information that the written word simply cannot, hence the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Visual literacy, the ability to create and understand images and symbols, may be more important than ever in an increasingly image-savvy culture. Yet, in the current educational climate, art is often seen as expendable compared to academic subjects. Observation and problem-solving skills, crucial to both artists and scientists, can be developed through drawing. Theories of Brain-Based Learning and Multiple Intelligences support that accessing this visual-spatial learning mode, along with direct observation in an outdoor site, enhances cognition and retention of information through a multi-channeled approach. While several broader studies affirm the value of art and science integration, there have been few studies specifically assessing drawing as a learning tool and its practical application in K-12 education. In this study, 390 middle school students in Wisconsin participated in a tree identification lesson with a classroom and field component. A control group completed the lesson using a text based dichotomous key, while the experimental group used an active observational drawing method. Pre- and post- assessments measured student knowledge of tree identification terms and species recognition. Students completed a self-assessment of their learning styles based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory, and the impact of the observational drawing method was compared between both groups and across the eight intelligences. While there was no statistically significant difference found in the students’ assessment scores, teacher observations of student behavior and student attitudes toward the drawing activity point to its value.