Drawing Out Ideas

by F.

On MIT’s “Picturing to Learn” program:

Piloted in 2003 for a small class taught by Professor Caroline Ross of materials science and engineering, [Picturing to Learn] was developed in Subject 3.091, Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, a fall lecture course with 500 freshmen taught by Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry. The program has been largely met with enthusiasm, Sadoway said.

Sadoway asked his students to create drawings that explained and compared molecular bonds in compounds with different boiling points. They were encouraged to look at physical features such as molecular size and electron configuration to account for the forces at work within and between molecules.

For many students, the assignment was a challenge and something that brought them outside of their comfort zone. “They are afraid of being anything but the best,” Sadoway said.

Many of the students found creative ways to explore the questions, drawing animals, spaceships and people in place of molecules. Using metaphors — the ways keys fit into locks and the heel-height of shoes — for the way compounds interact, students thought through concepts in a new way, Sadoway said. “They had to pick their metaphors carefully though,” he said. “Some did not work.”

For some students, the assignment highlighted a failure to see the whole picture, Sadoway said. While students can memorize equations and correctly answer quantitative test questions, it is far more important that they walk away with a deeper conceptual understanding, which was an intended outcome of the picturing exercises, he said

Full story on MIT’s PR site.