September 17, 2014

Learning science through reading, writing… and doodling

Posted by Laura Guertin

When you see a student doodle in class, do you think he/she is disconnected, zoning out, and wasting time?  Do you think the same when you see a colleague doodling in a meeting?  Let’s start with this short TED talk and see if your perception of doodling will change:



If we apply the results of studies by Andrade (2009) and others, it seems that doodling will stop our students from daydreaming and actually improve cognitive performance.  Ainsworth et al. (2011) present an interesting argument that science doodling is an effective learning and communication strategy, allowing students to become “proficient in science” and to “develop many representational skills” (p. 1096).

Science doodles are not only for students, but for teachers and other professionals.  There is a YouTube channel called Doodle Science, where high school physics is taught with doodles.  MinuteEarth is based on the same concept.  So can we consider doodling not only an accepted practice for science communication, but a profession?  You need to look no further than Perrin Ireland, Senior Science Communications Specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  I have had the opportunity to witness Perrin in action as a science scribe at some sessions at ScienceOnline Climate and ScienceOnline 2014, and her talent at capturing highlights during conference talks is incredible.  Check out the link in the tweet below to see examples of how she creates science stories with doodles.



So, what do we do now?  Do we learn to accept students doodling in class?  Are we ready to accept that doodling could increase their ability to learn science?  But here’s a better question for geologists… we already have students sketch outcrops in the field, draw fossil specimens in our paleontology courses, etc.  Might more focused and defined “doodling” assignments help our students better develop these sketching skills that are important to our discipline?  I have to think about this more… and maybe, I’ll doodle while I’m thinking about this…



Additional sources for exploration

Ainsworth, S., V. Prain, & R. Tytler (2011, August 26). Drawing to learn in science. Science, 333(6046): 1096-1097. (Summary online, PDF online)

Andrade, J. (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology,DOI: 10.1002/acp.1561. (PDF online)

Choi, C.Q. (2011, August 25). Doodling may draw students into science. LiveScience article at:

Hughes, C., & S. Asakawa. (2014, July 28). Keep calm and doodle on. NOVA Education article at:

Articles and artwork featuring Perrin Ireland (Senior Science Communications Specialist, NRDC)