Washington, April 11 : Five higher education institutions in America have initiated a project called 'Picturing to Learn' to help undergraduates master scientific concepts by explaining them to high school students through pencil sketches.
Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the new project is being run at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Duke University, Roxbury Community College and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
It derives inspiration from the fact that creating pencil drawings requires breaking down larger concepts into their constitutive pieces, which helps clarify the underlying science.
The students are also asked to evaluate their own drawings, which helps them identify and appreciate critical components.
"Visually explaining concepts can be a powerful learning tool. The other important part of this is that the teacher immediately identifies student misconceptions," says Felice Frankel, principal investigator at Harvard University.
People behind this initiative insist that many of the drawings bring scientific concepts to life in interesting and unexpected ways.
They say that drawing may also bring any misconceptions immediately to light so that professors can address them with students.
"I've been surprised and very pleased about the enthusiasm and excitement we've seen in some very renowned science professors. They could have pooh-poohed this idea, but instead, they're seeing how it helps inform their teaching," says Rebecca Rosenberg, the project manager and a former secondary school science teacher.
Four Harvard physics majors will take their work to the next level on April 12, when they travel to New York City for a workshop with design students at the School of Visual Arts (SVA).
The idea is to engage design students in conversation with science students so that each can learn from the other.
An eventual goal of the project is to expand it to students in middle school, high school and graduate school.
"This project promotes widespread adoption of these methods through workshops and publications. Clearly it offers a useful teaching tool to anyone teaching science at any level," says Hal Richtol, NSF program manager.
A description of the project is accessible at http://www.picturingtolearn.org/.