Teaching Science with Art


This fall, I’ve been teaching courses at two universities.  One is a biogeography class – the science of plant and animal distributions.  I find myself drawing pictures on the white board to explain concepts.  I’m a visual learner and I know some of my students are too, so I think it’s helpful sometimes.  I do know that some of the silly little pictures help people remember things because, on exams, the students often reproduce the doodles and give the correct answer.  Some students don’t seem to like the drawings at all though.  I wonder if the sketches make the concepts seem too simple or easy or unrefined.  I would rather the students find the concepts easy than struggle, so I keep drawing and try to ignore the little comments I get from students every now and then.  As a side note, when did it become ok to chide your college professor?

The other class I’m teaching is an art class for wildlife science majors.  In the class, the students learn how to illustrate science concepts using a vector illustration software (we chose Inkscape because (1) I know how to use it, (2) it’s free, and (3) it works on all 3 major operating systems).  In the process, they learn the skills they can also apply to creating their own scientific figures for publication.  The benefit to their coursework is that they really need to understand the concepts in order to illustrate it properly.  The end result of the class isn’t a series of diagrams, as you might imagine, but rather richly colored artistic graphic posters.  Through critiquing their classmates’ work the students also have to draw on their knowledge of other concepts to help their classmates refine their work.  It’s been quite the amazing process.  The science aspect of this class is far greater than I anticipated.  In just a few short weeks, the class will be finished and I am really excited to see the end results.

About micheletobias

I lead two lives - one as an artist and the other as a scientist. More and more I'm finding my two worlds colliding, and it's not the disaster you might expect. View all posts by micheletobias

6 responses to “Teaching Science with Art

  • SimplySimplisticComplexities

    I often learn that way as well. It wasn’t until I attended my massage therapy class. And my silly teacher would say or do funny things. As her “mnemonic” Techniques. Helps vocally too = )

  • Latoya

    Great article, but I just got a virus notice from coming to this
    website. Is that common or could that simply be an error?
    I’m not real technical and I’ve had all of 4 viruses since I’ve had this Computer, so notices like this cause me to feel nervous. Just wanted to inform you. Once again, fantastic article, please create some more!

    • micheletobias

      If you’re asking if I commonly give my readers viruses, the answer to that is I certainly hope not! I’m sorry if there’s some sort of suspicious file showing up, but I only post my own photos taken with my own camera or created in my vector illustration software, so I assure you it’s not coming from my content. This blog is hosted by WordPress, so it might be coming from an ad they put on the page or from their site (several prominent websites have been found to be unknowingly hosting malicious software recently), so you might want to let them know what page you found it on an the time and day so they can look into it.

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