Moving and Imagining: Spatial Presentation at Early Math Symposium 2018

On Friday, April 22, 2018, at the Early Math Symposium, AIMS associates engaged participants in three presentations on early mathematics. Wilma Hashimoto and I presented “What’s So Special About Spatial”. We presented this twice and had a great time interacting with the two groups. Our goal of the presentations was to inform our participants about the importance of spatial language, movement (embodied cognition in spatial reasoning), and spatial visualization.

We started by answering the question, “Why should we be teaching spatial?”

Through our extensive research, we encountered work by Jae Eun Lee who stated that the scores of early education teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge of mathematics on number sense were highest, while scores obtained for spatial relationships were the lowest. We wanted our participants to see how valuable they are and how much they can accomplish just by expanding their knowledge. Another disturbing point we investigated was found in a report from the U.S. Department of Education that pointed out that the U.S. has been teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic as most essential subjects; however,  teaching on spatial thinking is critically important for the disciplines of STEM and is not as prominent as it should be. Spatial development is especially significant in the field of early childhood education and that formal instruction is necessary to ensure that children build on this knowledge. There is a strong need to enhance spatial thinking and develop individuals who are spatial thinkers.

Rotations in Presentation

After Wilma and I discussed the importance of and research on spatial reasoning we then went into our rotations. We created four rotations of spatial activities for all the participants to rotate through. Our goal was for the participants to engage in playful learning to explore how they could implement the spatial foundations in their classrooms. Each rotation encompassed embodied cognition, the use of language and visualization.

What is embodied cognition?

Embodied cognition challenges traditional notions of what cognition involves. Our bodies and motions are important; the ways we interact within and experience our environment shape our thinking.

Scholar and researcher Brent Davis stated; “Every act is an act of cognition.”

What is visualization?

Spatial visualization is a specific type of spatial thinking that involves our imagination to “Generate, retain, retrieve, and transform well-structured visual images.”

Provides learners with strategies to promote spatial ability.

We wrapped up our presentation by explaining that while spatial reasoning is a vast field it is mostly experienced in our everyday lives. Spatial skills encompass more than having a good sense of direction, however. Nora Newcombe, who leads the “Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center” describes spatial as the ability to read maps, diagrams, and charts; to correctly identify, transform and manipulate shapes; to understand how objects relate to one another in space; and to maintain a stable mental representation of an object as it moves.


Davis, B. (2015). Spatial reasoning in the early years: Principles, assertions, and speculations. New York: Routledge.

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