Karen Romano Young

From the desk: Doodlebug: My Novel in Doodles and Humanimal Doodles, a science comic in print and on the web.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Doodling to Learn

I'm always looking for new work, especially these days when I'm stretching to find new ways to work: no longer "just" a writer, in recent years I've become a science writer and an illustrator, and even -- sort of -- a designer, by default, as real (i.e. employed) designers look at my dummy pages with an assurance, or horror, that they're best done by the brain that thunk 'em up.

Sometimes when I'm looking for new work I do up a little marketing thingy for myself, and I was preparing one of these, making it to help scientists better understand what I do when I interview them and turn them into the subjects of blogs or articles or Humanimal Doodles. I needed some pull-out quotes for the marketing thingy, so I asked Beth Lindstrom, the editor of Odyssey, the science magazine in which Humanimal Doodles appear regularly.

Along with saying other friendly things, Beth mentioned that she thought my science comic went along with the principles at work in Felice Frankel's Picturing to Learn project. I hadn't heard of Frankel and her work, so I went to look, and what I found seemed to affirm everything I've been trying to do lately -- from letting go of formal thinking (by this I mean purposeful, goal-oriented, organized thinking), to trusting your mind to take a concept you've been learning about and synthesize a new form -- a visual form -- for it (by this I mean a doodle, and so does Frankel), and to use this doodle as a show-and-tell for what you know as well as what you want to learn, and then to share the whole thing.

This links up with the work I've been doing this summer with my writing and drawing, thanks to Lynda Barry and Writing the Unthinkable (see my last post for links), practicing Lynda's methods for taking yourself out of your formal mind and into the dark waters of the less conscious, disorganized, deep-process part of your head. This is the place I try to take myself to as I write, draw, or design -- and what's coming out of my fingers (yes -- fingers, "the original digital equipment", much more than keyboard) has been different, interesting, and empowering.

Frankel proposes that, through doodling, people learning science target what they know, form it into pictures showing relationships, and set processes in motion. Through her classroom work she has shown that people shown doodles learn more, and has created a program to inspire students to create their own doodles. I'm hoping to learn more about her work.


  1. Sort of, but not quite.

    The research is on learning from drawing your understanding of a specific scientific concept. The image is analyzed for whether it shows understanding or misconceptions.

    It's a stretch to call that doodling without a purpose or goal. There is an article in Science magazine this week that explains this better and has multiple references to other work in the area.

  2. Yes, you are correct. I've been delving into Picturing to Learn a bit more and finding the way that MIT professors are using it to be fascinating -- seems they liken the creation of doodles to illustrate concepts to finding visual metaphors that are analyzed to see how well they really convey the meaning.

    I'm so excited to find people researching this practice that I've been exploring that I hare off in the wrong direction sometimes. Thanks for fixing this here. I'll be adding more, and meant to this week, if not for power issues from Hurricane Irene. Watch this space.