Have you ever played Tetris or Battleship? Moved furniture through tight spaces? Took a shortcut on your way home or used landmarks as a means of direction? Played with Legos? If you have, then you have used spatial reasoning skills. What does spatial reasoning have to do with my focus on early mathematics? My simple answer: everything.
Our Early Math team has started researching spatial reasoning. We have started to read Early Childhood Mathematics Education Research: Learning Trajectories for Young Children by Julie Sarama and Douglas H. Clements. We have specifically focused on Chapter 7: Spatial Thinking.
Sarama and Clements describe two major spatial competencies: Spatial orientation and spatial visualization. The authors exhibit learning trajectories from birth through 8 years of age. The learning trajectories show which spatial competencies are being established, developmental progressions, and the mental actions-on-objects for two categorizations of spatial thinking: spatial orientation (maps and coordinates) and spatial visualization and imagery. Sarama and Clements clarify, “We saw that spatial and structural thinking is critical in (visual) subitizing, counting strategies, and arithmetic. Such spatial knowledge is central to geometry, measurement, patterning, data presentation” (p. 194). It is essential for us to recognize that these two learning categorizations represent only a small bit of the role of spatial thinking in mathematics.
According to Sarama and Clements, “Mathematics achievement is related to spatial abilities.” Furthermore, “Spatial imagery reflects a specific ability to solve mathematical problems, especially nonroutine problems” (p. 161). It is our goal to unwrap these findings and to explore how we can develop awareness of spatial thinking with educators working with young children.
Currently we are beginning the process of discovering research in conjunction with questions and examining the findings collectively as a team. This is only the beginning for us and we will continue to study and bring to light many ideas to guide educators in giving their students the opportunity to develop spatial reasoning in the context of daily activity.