I Visualization Strategies: Scientific Drawings

These strategies use drawings to communicate mental imagery and to help clarify it.

Scientific drawings: Drawings that are abstract or simplified representations of scientific phenomena.

Skeletal Scientific Drawing
Gesture Above a Scientific Drawing
Highlighting Unobvious Features

In the examples below, students were asked to think individually about how muscle cells in the leg received oxygen from the lung. Individual students were asked to represent this in a drawing on a empty paper diagram of the human body. Then the small groups worked on developing a consensus model, which combined the thinking of the group into one diagram. Students then used small portable white boards to draw and explain how they would represent this model. A pair of students in the group then shared their group’s model with the whole class. Using this whiteboard method to collect and share initial student drawings and explanations is an effective way to initiate imagistic thinking and detect the current state of student thinking for many scientific models.


Make a Skeletal Scientific Drawing

The teacher or student makes or modifies a simple or skeletal drawing or diagram of a concept.

Example 1

Teacher asks students to use a white board in small groups to draw a model of the circulatory system and modify it during discussion.


Gesture Above a Scientific Drawing

The teacher or student makes gestures above a drawing or points to parts of a drawing.

Example 2

Teacher repeatedly moves pointer over drawing of a capillary bed to indicate blood flow (from red to blue vessels) as he asks a question about the flow.

Teacher: What do you think happens to it (the blood) as it goes through these capillary beds in terms of its speed?

Chalk drawing of a capillary bed. The right half is red, showing oxygenated blood, and the left half is blue, showing oxygen depleted blood. Cells are drawn surrounding each capillary in the network. Arrows show the direction of blood flow through the bed and the direction of oxygen from the capillaries to the cells. The teacher is touching the drawing with a ruler.


Highlight Unobvious Features

Teacher highlights a relationship or subtle feature that students may not notice in the drawing.

The relationship may be between elements of the drawing or it may be a dynamic relationship not explicitly represented in the drawing.

Example 3

Teacher: When blood reaches the capillaries in a muscle tissue, which way does O2 flow, from the blood to muscle cells or from muscle cells to the blood?



For more on how the visualization strategies support the rest of the framework, see the following pages:

Educator's Tour - Level I
Introduction to the Full Theory



More in-depth discussion of using scientific drawing to support student thinking is found in the following papers by the team:

Using imagery support strategies to develop powerful imagistic models (Price, Stephens, Clement, & Núñez-Oviedo, 2017)

Identifying teaching strategies that support thinking with imagery during model-based discussions (Stephens, Clement, Price, & Núñez-Oviedo, 2017)