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 times a day. Science education research has a long history of trying to parse out these experiences and discover what is hidden within a student’s “black box”. What does an individual student know? At what age do they learn it? How do they come to know a science concept in the first place?
As the “science guy” at the AIMS Center, I have spent part of the last two years delving deeply into science education research. To begin with, I started with Piaget and Inhelder and their version of constructivism as they studied the learning stages and perspective of individual children. Since then I have used my time to explore some of the main research efforts in science education that represents decades of work on student ideas and educational reform. It has been a fascinating academic endeavor in which I discovered that even after decades of science education reform it still remains extremely difficult to change students’ ideas and practice in regards to science knowledge.
One area of science education research that I am particularly interested in studying further within the AIMS Center is that of spatial learning. While there has been some interest in spatial learning within education research, in terms of the classroom there seems to be a “blind spot” in this area, especially within the U.S. elementary education system.
There have been numerous, large meta-analysis studies over the last 15 years that have shown that there is a significant relationship between spatial learning and the increase in science and mathematical ability. While the correlation is strong, these studies have discovered that spatial learning is currently a vastly underserved area in science and mathematics education. Most importantly, research has shown that spatial learning is not a “fixed” quantity, but spatial learning is, within an individual, malleable and with training can be significantly improved across all age groups from pre-K to adults. There has also been significant research showing that spatial learning is an important predicator is achievement in the STEM disciplines, especially for women.
Over the next few months I am going to use my blog post to begin to explore the idea of spatial learning within science education, connect with the seminal papers in the field, and begin to look forward to this as an area of study within the AIMS Center.