About the Picturing Science Project

Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL), a Hawaii nonprofit serving the educational community, is focusing on creating a vision of children using the visual environment as access to science literacy. PREL's Picturing Science project engages students in both intuitive and analytical thinking about science. This instructional approach enables teachers to integrate their K-12 science instruction with art, language structure, technology, and writing. Picturing Science strategies, such as explicit vocabulary teaching and incorporating new vocabulary in speech and writing, work particularly well for English language learners. Teachers using the Picturing Science approach start with a science unit and specific benchmarks - often emphasizing local environmental and cultural issues.

Focusing on a central theme or essential question (e.g., (How can we help limit overfishing in the Micronesian Islands? What impact do plants have human survival? What is the relationship of the use of Hawaiian waters for recreation and stewardship of these waters?)), students work in groups to photograph and draw the environment around them. They can use digital or disposable cameras, as well as create observational drawings of the objects they are studying.

After documenting their observations through drawing and photography, students label parts and begin to develop vocabulary from their images. This focus on making science vocabulary concrete through creating images is known to be highly successful with all learners. Students are asked to write both scientifically and metaphorically about their images. Several strategies are used to develop student writing: building vocabulary through drawing, brainstorming descriptive words and phrases, and using directional words and analogies to describe images. The final result is a showcase of student images and writing that shows what students know and have learned about science.

Picturing Science consists of three elements:
  1. increasing vocabulary knowledge;
  2. applying word knowledge;
  3. writing purposefully in cognitively rich contexts.

The first element - increasing vocabulary knowledge - asks the student to use other modes of learning (i.e., observational drawing, photography, symbols, and gestures) to label and collect vocabulary about the content studied.

The second element - applying word knowledge - calls on students to use the vocabulary they have collected. Teachers help students describe, analyze, and interpret images using vocabulary developed through visualization techniques.

The third element - writing purposefully in cognitively rich contexts - asks students to create texts rich in academic and technical terms, reflecting a deep engagement with the concepts learned in elements one and two. They show what they know and have learned through descriptive writing based on their observations. They write in different genres about what they know about science concepts as connected to their image. The images and writing produced are used for an annual website or a class- produced book.