In Science, Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

A Guest Post by AMSTI Regional Specialist, Jennifer Towles

As Alabama teachers implement the College and Career Ready Standards for Science, they are asking students to engage in arguments from evidence. Engaging in arguments from evidence is just one of the eight science and engineering practices found in  A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council [NRC], 2012).

Towles, J. (2016) First Grade Science Notebooks

Towles, J. (2016) First Grade Science Notebooks

A student’s ability to provide written evidence is limited in kindergarten, first, and second grade due to their developing literacy skills. Their oral language is more advanced than their written language. Using photographs as evidence is not only an effective scaffolding tool for written and spoken arguments, but also a meaningful method of integrating technology into science. Hugo von Zeipel (2015) conducted research in Sweden on the subject of using pictures to develop science concepts in young children. He found that when students have background knowledge about a scientific concept, pictures alone and pictures with text supported their understanding. However, if the student did not have background knowledge, isolated pictures nor pictures with text furthered their understanding .

Alabama Math, Science, Technology Initiative [AMSTI] (2017)

Alabama Math, Science, Technology Initiative [AMSTI] (2017)

In order to increase scientific literacy, students should have hands-on learning experiences to build background knowledge. They need to be able to create and evaluate images to support their oral and written arguments. This skill is more important now than ever before. Our society is increasingly relying on images as sources of information. As a result, being scientifically literate no longer entails reading a piece of literature and discerning fact from fiction. Being scientifically literate involves evaluating images to determine if the evidence is real or false and does it truly support the claim of the author.


As early as kindergarten, students need to begin the process of using pictures in a scientific context to support or disprove their arguments. Teaching young children to use images as evidence does not have to be difficult. Turner and Hicks (2017) shared two guiding questions used in a writing class to evaluate ads, “What is this advertisement saying?” and “How do you know?” (p. 28). A science teacher only needs to change the questions slightly to “What is your scientific claim?” and “How does this picture support your claim?” If teachers do not have access to iPads, digital cameras are another option. Inexpensive digital cameras can be purchased from Wal-mart for less than ten dollars. When teachers introduce using images as evidence in their science classroom, they will see a difference in enthusiasm during the process of defending an argument. Another advantage is the quantity and quality of oral and written language will improve. As teachers, we not only need to teach content, but we need to instill a love of learning. The integration of science and technology is a positive step towards that goal.

Towles, J. (2016) Rock Day

Towles, J. (2016) Rock Day



Lou Hattersley (2014, July 30). Taking Pictures with Your iPad. Retrieved from    your-ipad-11363861529620

Martineau, P. (2012). Mega-Snowstorm. Retrieved from

National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices,   Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Retrieved from

Resnick, M. (2016, December 06). Teaching Children to Take Pictures | Expert photography blogs, tip, techniques, camera reviews – Adorama Learning Center. Retrieved from

Save the world: Ice is melting [Photo]. Retrieved from

Turner, K. H., & Hicks, T. (2017). Argument in the real world: teaching adolescents to read and write digital texts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Von Zeipel, H. (2015). Illustrations in Science Education: An Investigation of Young Pupils Using Explanatory Pictures of Electrical Currents. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 167, 204-210. doi.10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.12.663

AMSTI Teacher Selected for National Honor

AMSTI learned today that the Northrop Grumman Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) announced that Tina McKenzie, an AMSTI-certified teacher at Endeavor Elementary School in Harvest, Alabama was chosen to participate as a Teacher Fellow in the 2016-2017 Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy. The only teacher selected from Alabama, McKenzie will participate with 24 other educators in a number of science, engineering, and technology-related activities and professional learning opportunities.

The Teacher Fellows were selected on the basis of several criteria, including displaying a strong desire to advance STEM education and applying real-world applications in the classroom. During their fellowship, recipients will:

  • Participate in a five-day workshop at a Northrop Grumman facility during the summer of 2017, where they will discuss teaching strategies for integrating effective and authentic engineering design practices in their classroom;
  • Attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles, March 30-April 2, 2017, where they will engage in the latest instructional practices related to the Next Generation Science Standards;
  • Participate in an immersive, 80-hour externship at a local Northrop Grumman facility where they will be partnered with an engineer/technologist to observe and experience critical workforce skills in action;
  • Develop lesson(s)/units that integrate an authentic and real-world application linked to their externship experiences; and
  • Develop tools/resources to share with colleagues to help build capacity for engineering and technology instruction within their schools and districts.


2016 Friend of AMSTI Award

Dr. J. Michael Wyss, Director of the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Center for Community Outreach Development and the Principal Investigator for the UAB Regional Site of the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, has been awarded the 2016 Friend of AMSTI award. 
The Friend of AMSTI title is awarded to individuals that have demonstrated continued service and support of the Alabama State Department of Education’s flagship Math, Science and Technology initiative. Learn more at