Medical Illustrations Project in 8th Grade Science

Medical Illustrations Project in 8th Grade Science

On a typical day during the Body Systems Unit in Emily Alexander’s 8th grade science classroom, you may mistake the space for an art studio.  That’s because Ms. Alexander has intentionally turned her classroom into one. Student scientists and artists, huddled around their sketchbooks, share their latest medical drawings. They incorporate the drawing techniques Ms. Alexander has modeled into their drafts to better communicate what they are discovering and learning about the body’s incredible systems. They ask each other questions, provide feedback, and learn more from each other’s interpretations than they could from reading any textbook. 

8th grade scientists were tasked with creating medical illustrations to be used by doctors educating their interns. Each drawing was to accurately depict a specific structure within a body system and demonstrate how it interacts with another body system. Additionally, students wrote artist statements in reference to their final drawings.  A high quality statement would convey nuanced understanding of the anatomy within the drawing.  Ms. Alexander encouraged students to be just as creative in their writing as they were in their drawings by weaving sensory language and analogies throughout their scientific research. 
Ms. Alexander took many deliberate steps to ensure the success of all students - especially those who began the unit feeling self-conscious about their drawing skills. Time to practice was one essential ingredient for success. Students engaged in timed sketches, two -five minutes in length, every day.  After a short lesson about rounding or adding texture, students were given bursts of sketch time during which no erasing was allowed.  Consistent reflection also built up student confidence.  After each sketch, students reflected on what they learned about the body system from drawing it.  They also noted their growth and improvement between sketches. This focus on reflection sent the clear message to students that their process was just as, or maybe even more important than, the final product.  Lastly, Ms. Alexander made sure students shared their work with each other every day. Shifting the responsibility of feedback from the teacher to the students themselves placed students at the center of their learning. Ms. Alexander also noticed that these daily routines really brought students together in support of one another.  And the results are breathtaking. 

Each student’s unique artistic eye and interpretation breathe new life into this unit every year. We congratulate our 8th graders on their impressive work and admire the craftsmanship with which they approached this challenging task.  May they continue to use art and drawing to interpret and analyze the world around and within themselves. 

“The heart structure is so complicated. Drawing the heart made me realize there are so many ways in.” Bradlie Vidal-Molina, sketch reflection


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