Drawn to Science Education: Studying Science Teaching and Learning through Drawings

Educators: Elementary School Lesson Plan

Elementary students have experienced science in a variety of ways both in and outside of the classroom. The lesson plan below is designed to help make your students' thinking about science and these experiences visible through drawing.

Time Needed: 45 minutes

Materials: paper, markers/colored pencils/crayons, tape to hang drawings

National Science Education Standards: Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science: Science as a Human Endeavor (National Research Council, 1996)


1. Explain to students that they are going to take part in a drawing activity about science. The goal is to better understand how we think about science. For most students drawing is an enjoyable and rewarding activity.

2. Ask students to "Draw learning science the way you like it most."

Encourage students to add as many details as they can in their drawing. For example, what people are doing in the drawing, what tools they are using, where they are working, etc. More details allow for a richer understanding and discussion.

Some students may ask for clarification. For example can they draw you, does it have to be your class, and so on. It's probably best for them to draw what first comes to mind after hearing the prompt. It is not necessary for them to draw you or your class.

3. Give students 15 to 20 minutes to complete their drawings. Adjust the time based on the characteristics of your class. Stress that artistic skill isn't important; the activity is to better understand how they think about science. Circulate around the room as they draw. You might ask students:

  • Why did you include ... in your drawing?
  • You drew a ... . What else could you add to your drawing?
  • What made you think of ... ? What else could you add?
  • Do you see yourself anywhere in the drawing? If you added yourself, where would you be and what would you be doing?
  • Could you include labels to make the drawing clearer?

4. Ask students to write a description of their drawing on the back of their paper. If they are having trouble ask them to write about:

  • What is happening in the drawing and why?
  • Where did you get your ideas for the drawing?
  • What is the most important element in your drawing? Why?
  • Where does our idea of scientists/science teaching or learning come from?
  • If there are expressions on faces in the drawing you could ask "Why is the person smiling, frowning, ...?"

5. After drawings are done there are several options for discussing students' work.

  • Allow interested students to come to the front of the class and describe and show their drawings. You may want to ask them to discuss the elements they included, why they are important, and where the idea for their drawing came from.
  • Conduct a "Gallery Walk" where students post their drawing on the wall around the room (allow students to opt out if they don't want to share their drawing). Students then can walk around to see other students' drawings. This can then be followed by a discussion about similarities, differences, and what the drawings tell us about our thinking.
  • If time is an issue you can collect the drawings and descriptions and provide feedback later. Some students may find it motivating if the drawing and description are collected and feedback provided. It also provides you with a chance to view their drawings and reflect on how they relate to teaching science.

Conclusion: Teachers often leave drawings on the wall as points of discussion. You can also collect drawings and repeat the activity towards the end of the semester or school year. By doing so you and your students see any differences in their thinking that developed over time.

As you view your students drawing you might reflect upon:

  • How are the drawings different or similar to your conception of students' thinking?
  • Where do the ideas students include in their drawings come from?
  • Does the activity give you any new ideas about your students and teaching science?

You can see how we analyzed drawings by teacher candidates about science learning and teaching with our rubric.

Questions or comments? Send us an e-mail at jmcginni@umd@umd.edu.