Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spatial Reasoning: Ready, Set...Go!

In the course of one short day, all of a sudden I have an insatiable new curiosity.

Spatial reasoning. It's been so obvious to me that I don't even see it or talk about it any more. It seems intuitive to me that dancing and dance making have a role in building spatial reasoning skills, but now I'm really curious about how it all works.

What exactly is spatial reasoning, beyond an end-goal of being able to visualize positions and movement in 2- and 3-space? Why is that important? And, if it's so important to success in both math and science, why aren't we talking more about how to develop it in all our students?

It seems we hit it pretty heavily in ECE by infusing the preschool learning environment with spatial language (over, under, through, middle, forward, back, etc.) but starting at about 1st grade these efforts disappear.

And, honestly? I can tell. I've been working with 4th and 5th graders for over fifteen years. Every teacher I've talked to says that many/most of their students are lacking in spatial skills to some extent. This does not necessarily mean they are lacking ability to learn dance or are awkward movers.  It means they do not naturally or easily talk about how, where and why they are moving. As a result, I often feel like I am engaged in spatial remediation with ten and eleven year olds.

I shouldn't be the only one engaged in this activity. Nor should we be remediating this skill.

In this article on the subject (h/t to @msbjacobs on Twitter) the author emphasizes that:
Teachers (and parents) need to understand what spatial thinking is, and what kinds of pedagogical activities and materials support its development. Recall that spatial thinking involves noticing and remembering the locations of objects and their shapes, and being able to mentally manipulate those shapes and track their paths as they move. Because spatial thinking is not a subject, not something in which children are explicitly tested, it often gets lost among reading, mathematics, and all the other content and skills specified in state standards. Teachers need to be able to recognize where they can infuse it into the school day.
So, my focus is now:  

How are spatial reasoning skills developedWhat math subjects, beyond geometry, benefit from strong spatial reasoning skills?  How can/do we connect these skills to math learning? 

I have my own understanding of this topic based on years of actually doing it, but I am most curious about how this is being addressed in classrooms other than my own. I am also curious about how spatial reasoning and mathematics interact in the math classroom.

I will be working on this and reporting back from time to time. If you have any insights or experience with this topic I would LOVE to hear more!


  1. >What math subjects, beyond geometry, benefit from strong spatial reasoning skills?

    In Calc II, we figure out "volumes of rotation". This task requires good spatial visualization. I'm sending you some research on how helping women students with this skill helped them succeed in calculus at rates equal to male students (which they hadn't been doing before the intervention).

  2. When I think of spatial reasoning, I think of building marble mazes out of lego, and having to plan ahead where to build the supports for the next part. I think about the kids playing 3D tic-tac-toe and starting to draw out the patterns from that:


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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