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