Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Drawings as a Tool for Understanding Geology in the Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Drawings as a Tool for Understanding Geology in the Environment

Article excerpt


Illustrations have always been part of the history of natural sciences, bècause at one time, they were the only means of representing reality. There are many exquisite and realistic drawings of plants, animals, fossils, geological cross-sections, etc. Every illustration expresses not only a manner of doing or representing but also a manner of believing and thinking.

Illustrations are an effective tool for communicating information from teacher to students (drawings on the whiteboard, slides, transparencies, videos, cartoons, and especially textbooks), and from students to teacher. Research into the workings of different types of symbolization (Marti, 2003), such as figurative expression or drawing, brings us closer to cognitive and socioaffective representations that individuals produce when trying to understand or express a phenomenon (Goldsmith, 1984; Kress and van Leeuwen, 1990; Kearsey and Turner, 1999; Mathewson, 1999, 2005; Tversky, 1999, 2002). Landscape illustrations by past naturalists, such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt, show the causal relationships characterizing the environment, and they are most precisely represented in diagrams and drawings by geologists such as James Hutton and Charles Lyell, which clearly show the environmental model of all these authors, i.e., their understanding of the phenomenon.

Drawing is a powerful communication tool that complements oral and written communication, but it also needs to be taught and learned. Several studies have focused on the role of language and questions in science learning (e.g., Graesser, Person, and Huber, 1992; Sutton, 2003). In contrast, there are fewer studies on the role of drawings in learning science, geology in particular. We now need studies on the role of drawings in science learning.

This study analyses graphic representations of landscapes, produced by teacher-training students and secondary school students, and the descriptive power of these drawings in connection with questions posed on the systems being represented. The teacher trainees studied geosciences during their compulsory education stage. The secondary school students were studying geosciences. We wanted to know whether both groups are capable of representing geological features. By comparing these two student samples (from secondary school and from university), we aim to discover whether the difficulty in using drawings to communicate ideas on natural systems lies in a lack of geological knowledge or not having learned how to use drawings as a communication tool. The constituent parts of a suitable description of a landscape as a natural system should include geological, as well as biological, elements. The absence of geological elements makes it difficult for students to use an environmental model. The drawings produced by students of a specific landscape will be an approximation of the model they have of that landscape. The model should include the causal relationships established by the student, since the explanation of these relations tells us what the student understands about how this particular environment works.

We have specified our research questions as follows and on the basis of the preceding information: Which geological features do secondary students of geosciences represent in their drawings of landscapes? Which geological features do teacher trainees represent in their drawings of landscapes? Do teacher trainees use geological features to answer questions about the functioning of an ecosystem?


Drawings, and in general all kinds of graphic representations, are an important part of the science syllabus. Textbooks and other materials include graphs, sketches, drawings, and photographs, each with different objectives and forming part of the educational content (Dimopoulos et al., 2003; Van Eijck and Roth 2008; Carvalho et al, 2011; Jarman et al., 2011). Knowledge of the visual language that allows us to read a graph, sketch, diagram, and so on permits us to communicate and makes it possible for us to acquire new information. …

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