Draw-an-Ecosystem Task


This tool was developed by Robert Sanford and Joseph Staples from University of Southern Maine, and Sarah Snowman, a graduate of University of Southern Maine. 


Drawings/Journal Prompts.


All ages. May have to adapt scoring rubric for different age groups. 

When and how to use the tool 

This tool is intended to be used before and after a program. It should be used with programming that aims to increase participants’ about an ecosystem. It could be used with programming that teaches broadly about ecosystems to explore broadly what students’ learned, or it could be used with programming that teaches about specific ecosystem (like a local watershed) to also explore what students’ learned and/or as a test of knowledge about specific desired knowledge outcomes of a program. 

To use the tool, instruct students (before and/or after a program) to draw and label an ecosystem on a paper worksheet that the instructor hands out. On the worksheet, include the prompt (or something similar to fit your program needs): “Please draw an ecosystem in the space below. It can be any ecosystem. Label ecosystem processes and concepts in your diagram. Take about 15 or 20 minutes. This will not be graded, it isn’t an art assignment, and the results will be kept anonymous.”

How to analyze 

Use the scoring guide to analyze the drawings. The scoring guide includes eight categories and each category can receive a score of 0, 1, 2, or 3. The lowest score is therefore 0 and the highest score is 24. 

What to do next 

Once the reflection response have been analyzed, consider the following suggestions about what to do next: 

  • You could compare populations to determine if members have different responses than the general , or if one geographic area of your is different from another. You might consider why different populations had different drawings- what about the lesson might have influenced their different response? This could also provide justification for program development, marketing, or funding proposals. You might also follow-up with participants with or to learn more about their responses.
  • Invite program staff or other partners to look over the data. Together you might also consider:
    • What do these results tell us about our programming? Why do we think we got these results?
    • What results did we think we would get? And did these data support our goals?
    • If our results did not support our goals, can we brainstorm on areas within the programming or delivery to influence ? What changes should be made to programming, or how should new programs be designed?
    • What stakeholders should we reach out to for collaboratively discussing program design?
    • Who or what organizations can we share our learning with?

How to see if this tool would work with your program 

It is likely that a drawing tool like this will work with many participants. Though, it may also not work for your participants. To assess whether the tool is appropriate for your audience, please review the task carefully and the tool with a small group that represents your population. To pilot test, ask a small group of willing participants who are part of your target audience to talk to you as they complete the tool. What are they thinking when they read each item? What experiences come to mind when they respond? As long as this is what you expect and you will gain relevant information from your , you are on the right track! If the answers are different for each person, and they should be more similar given their experiences, you may need to look at other tools. 

Tool Tips 

  • Emphasize with participants that the quality of drawing is not important in this exercise. The labels will help describe their drawings. 
  • If drawing doesn’t work for your participants, you may consider having students only write about the ecosystem instead.
  • You may adapt the scoring guide for this tool! Such as, you may change the categories to better fit your question or what you want to score. This rubric can serve as inspiration for what you may consider important to score based on the desired knowledge outcomes of your program.