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.
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The daily use of spatial skills is inherent in everyday life. From arranging furniture in the living room to stacking food in the pantry, spatial ability is a necessary skill we practice on a regular basis. It is also how we navigate within the world. Long before there was MapQuest or Siri on your iPhone,… Continue Reading
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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
As we usher in 2017, I cannot help but think about how quickly the rate of time seems to have increased as I have gotten older. Certainly part of the perceived change is my current frame of reference; time of life in regards to my family and the professional duties between FPU and the AIMS… Continue Reading
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
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
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