Author Archives: Steve Pauls

Piaget’s Water Level Task

While it might seem obvious that living in a three-dimensional world would require a certain amount of innate spatial abilities, it is less obvious in how this spatial ability informs science and math learning. Current research in visuospatial ability does show that children who have an understanding of how shapes fit together, and can see an object from a perspective other than their own, also have a significant advantage when it comes to problem solving in science and mathematics. Even something as important for small children as learning the number line or stacking blocks can be improved by spatial understanding.

Piaget and Inhelder worked with young children to try and understand their development of spatial reasoning and they found that young children do have a limited concept of space. For a young child, all objects exist in a fixed location relative to their own position and it is very difficult to represent in their mind’s eye the same scene from a different position, often referred to as perspective taking. As a child grows older they begin to construct their own conceptual model of space representing our three-dimensional world as a Euclidean space (horizontal, vertical, and depth axis). Piaget and Inhelder used the “water level task” as a procedure to test children’s spatial ability. In this task, a child is shown a container half full of water. Then an image of an outline of the same container which has been “tipped” at various angles is given to the child who is then asked to draw in the line representing the water level in the tipped container. Their research showed a definite age progression in the completion of this spatial task. Before the age of nine, children typically cannot consistently produce the correct answer. But much to everyone’s surprise many older students, both high school and university students, have significant difficulty with this task. Since that time numerous studies have explored spatial reasoning with university level students and have found that only about half could correctly draw in the correct water level on a consistent basis.

I find these results regarding spatial learning fascinating. Piaget’s water level task is an event that everyone experiences multiple times a day in the real world, yet is difficult for a significant number of people to represent on paper. We certainly all have experiences representing this task, so wherein lies the difficulty? Clearly there are gaps in our understanding of space, perspective, and frame of reference that spatial learning could help address in the classroom. How do you think you would do on Piaget’s water level task? Why don’t you give it a try.

Technology and its Relationship to Education

As humans, we tend to think of change as slow and plodding within a historic context. We can look back at our history and see the culmination of events over time and from that infer systemic cultural change. Pick a topic, it doesn’t matter which, history will show us the inevitable change that marks it… Continue Reading

The Advantage of Spatial Thinking in Science Education

Within our education system the steady, unwavering mantra of “reading, writing, and arithmetic” still holds as true as it did over a 100-years ago.  We continue to spend a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort developing a child’s mathematical and verbal ability.  Educational research shows without a doubt the importance of developing these two… Continue Reading

Science Education in the AIMS Center

Children arrive in the classroom not as empty vessels waiting to be filled but they come as “software” installed” individuals with their own ideas about how the world works, this is especially true in science education.  Children, from the youngest of ages, are “little scientists” playing, testing, and exploring the world around them hundreds of… Continue Reading

The Feynman Technique of Learning: Part II

In part I of my blog, “The Feynman Technique,” I began discussing Richard Feynman’s method for learning something new.  Feynman’s personal mode of learning was based on constructivism, building understanding from first principles.  As I mentioned, all of us at the AIMS Center have been tasked with learning new concepts outside of our field of… Continue Reading

The Mind of a Child

Understanding the mind of a child is a difficult if not impossible task and yet an elementary school teacher has the unenviable responsibility of doing just that in a classroom full of children. Historically, as far back as Aristotle, the human mind was thought to be an empty vessel just waiting to be filled with… Continue Reading

The Use of Questions Within the Classroom

I have a confession to make, this past weekend I attended my very first mathematical education conference! Being the “science guy” I have gone to quite a few science, STEM, and education type conferences throughout the years, but never one focused around mathematics. But this weekend I presented with Chris Brownell at CMC-North Mathematics Education… Continue Reading

Attitudes Towards Play in the Classroom

There has been renewed interest among science educational researchers over the past decade in the power of “play” in the classroom. One of the researchers that I have been following is Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University. She is one of the founders of the Ultimate Block Party which brings together companies, makers,… Continue Reading