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What do Spatial Skills have to do with STEM?. Linda Jacobs Swarlis, Ph.D. STEM for Girls Think Tank Nashville, TN November 12, 2010   . Outline. My Background and Interest Current Spatial Ability Research Impact on STEM Learning Strategies for Improvement of Spatial Intelligence

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what do spatial skills have to do with stem

What do Spatial Skills have to do with STEM?

Linda Jacobs Swarlis, Ph.D.

STEM for Girls Think Tank

Nashville, TN

November 12, 2010   

  • My Background and Interest
  • Current Spatial Ability Research
  • Impact on STEM Learning
  • Strategies for Improvement of Spatial Intelligence
  • The Future-- Current Research and Implementation Initiatives
perfect storm
Perfect Storm
  • Ph.D. scholarship
  • Role of spatial experience and spatial intelligence
  • Research across the disciplines
  • National attention, especially in psychology and engineering
  • Gender research results can be used to examine characteristics of groups, not to predict success or failure of individuals. Ability levels can and do overlap between the sexes.

(Halpern, 2000)

spatial ability spatial intelligence
Spatial Ability/Spatial Intelligence
  • Not one ability, consists of many abilities. It is the skill in visualizing, creating, manipulating, rotating, perceiving, and remembering information in nonverbal and symbolic forms.
  • Spatial ability requires representation, rotation, and inversion of objects in 3D when they are presented in 2D.
examples of the importance and uses of spatial ability
Examples of the Importance and Uses of Spatial Ability
  • Mathematicians visualize mathematical relationships
  • Database structure, Information visualization
  • Physical scientists visualize models of the physical world
  • Diagrams and drawings
  • Solving algebraic word problems
  • Searching for numerical patterns
  • Graphing
  • Conceptualizing mathematical functions
  • Mapping
the following two slides were added after the presentation
The following two slides were added after the presentation
  • The diagrams were taken from
  • Wai, J., Lubinski, & Benbow, C.P. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal ofEducational Psychology, 101(4), 817-835.
  • It is worth reading the article in its entirety to understand the scope and importance of their findings.

Project Talent: 1960-1974

Wai, J., Lubinski, & Benbow, C.P. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal ofEducational Psychology, 101(4), 817-835.


Results from Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) ‘71- Pres

Wai, J., Lubinski, & Benbow, C.P. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal ofEducational Psychology, 101(4), 817-835.

national science foundation
National Science Foundation
  • Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital
    • Report published by the National Science Board, May 5, 2010
two reasons for the report
Two Reasons for the Report
  • Long term prosperity of our Nation will increasingly rely on talented and motivated individuals who will comprise the vanguard of scientific and technological innovation.
  • Every student in the U.S. deserves the opportunity to achieve at his or her full potential.
  • Current verbal and mathematical assessments would miss 70% of students scoring in the top 1% of spatial ability
  • 90% STEM doctorate holders scored in the top quartile of spatial ability during adolescence
recommendations with implications for schools
Recommendations with Implications for Schools
  • IA. Renewed emphasis on differentiated instruction, enrichment
  • IE. Partnerships with higher education institutions, museums, industry, content developers, research laboratories and centers
  • IG. Expanded cyber learning opportunities
  • IH. Creation of a national database of formal and informal education opportunities for highly talented students, publicize and promote
identify and nurture all types of talents
Identify and Nurture all Types of Talents
  • IIB. “Expand existing talent assessment tests and identification strategies to the three primary abilities (qualitative/mathematical, verbal and spatial) so that spatial talent is not neglected.”
pre service and professional development
Pre-service and Professional Development
  • IID. “Encourage pre-service education and professional development for education professionals (including teachers, principals, and counselors) in the area of talent identification and development.
cognitive styles
Cognitive Styles
  • Preferred approach to organizing and representing information by individuals

Field Dependence

Field Independence

field dependence field independence
Field dependencefield independence
  • World War II pilots
  • Textbook reading
  • Cyberspace
chen macredie 2000
Chen & Macredie (2000)
  • Cognitive Styles and Hypermedia Navigation: Development of a Learning Model
field dependent learners
Field dependent learners
  • Prefer Sequential Instructions
  • Need to Work Step-by-Step before Understanding the “Big Picture”
  • Prefer that the Instructor be Present
  • Can Get “Lost” in an Online Environment
field independent learners in hypermedia
Field-Independent Learners in Hypermedia
  • Analytic
  • Prefer free navigation
  • Internally directed
  • Prefer to Work Independently and Choose Own Sequence
  • Do Not Get Lost Online as Easily as Field Dependent Individuals
  • Prefer the “Big Picture” First
internet searching
Internet Searching
  • Ford, Miller, & Moss. (2001) The role of individual differences in Internet searching: An empirical study. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.
ford miller moss 2001
Ford, Miller, & Moss (2001)
  • 69 Master’s degree students did research on an assigned topic using AltaVista
  • Topic: legal implications for an employer of an on-the-job work injury
individual differences examined
Individual Differences Examined
  • Cognitive styles
  • Prior Internet experience
  • Internet perceptions
  • Study approaches
  • Age
  • Gender
  • (Ford, et al. , 2001)
  • The information retrieved was judged to be relevant if it was written for the employer.
  • If the information was about the injury from an employee perspective, it was judged to be not relevant.
retrieval effectiveness linked to
Retrieval effectiveness linked to
  • Male gender
  • Low cognitive complexity
  • Imager as opposed to verbalizer
  • Older individuals
poor retrieval performance linked to
Poor retrieval performance linked to
  • Verbalizer cognitive style
  • High levels of cognitive complexity
  • Fear of failure
  • Poor time management
  • Ford, Miller, & Moss (2001)
self efficacy
  • A number of variables for retrieval failure may be classified as examples of low self-efficacy
retrieval failure
Retrieval failure
  • Significantly associated with females
  • Feelings of not being in control
  • Inability to avoid irrelevant material and stay on target
counterintuitive results
Counterintuitive Results
  • All participants were highly successful academically and experienced in Information Technology (IT)
  • IT was a central component of the Master’s degree program that all participants were pursuing
nature or nurture
Nature or Nurture?

“It may be that even high achieving females now studying IT may be encumbered by the effects of biased training and education in their primary and secondary education of some years ago.”

Ford, et al. (2001), p. 1061

revising the visualizer verbalizer dimension
Revising the Visualizer-Verbalizer Dimension
  • Kozhevnikov, Hegarty, & Mayer. (2002) Revising the visualizer-verbalizer dimension: Evidence for two types of visualizers.
visual vs spatial imagery
Visual vs. Spatial Imagery
  • Visual imagery – representation of a visual appearance of an object
  • Spatial imagery – representation of the spatial relationship between parts of an object, the location of an object in space, and their movements and not limited to the visual modality (could be auditory or tactile)
visualizer verbalizer
  • Visualizers with high spatial ability (spatial type) – High spatial
  • Visualizers with low spatial ability (iconic type) – – High visual, low spatial
  • Verbalizers
visualizers with low spatial ability
Visualizers with Low Spatial Ability
  • Visual artists have higher scores on visual memory tests than people with high spatial ability
  • May need help interpreting graphs because people with low spatial ability interpret graphs more literally
field independence
  • Connections between spatial ability and field-independence

Sternberg (2001)

  • )
mental rotations test
Mental Rotations Test
  • Unlike most spatial ability tests, the MRT does not correlate well to any tests of verbal ability. It is a true spatial test.

Vandenberg & Kuse, 1978

mental rotation sat m
Mental Rotation & SAT M
  • Significant relationship between mental rotation skills and SAT Mathematics scores for females (between .35 and .38)

Nuttall, Casey, & Pezaris, 2005

  • Skill in mental rotation can significantly predict SAT-M performance

Casey, Nuttall, & Pezaris, 1997

individual differences in human computer interaction
Individual Differences in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Egan, D.E. (1988)
  • “Differences among people usually account for much more variability in performance than differences in system designs or differences in training procedures.”
3 rd quartile to 1st quartile compared
3rdQuartile to 1st Quartile Compared
  • Text Editing – 2:1
  • Programming – 6:1, 5:1, 4:1, 3:1, 2:1
  • Information Search – 2:1, 3:1, 4:1
  • Comparing 1st Quartile to the 4th Quartile, the range difference is even greater, as much as 30:1 for programming
predictors of difference in performance egan 1988
Predictors of Difference in Performance (Egan, 1988)
  • Experience – Often the most powerful predictor of performance
  • Some differences may be a part of selection artifact, experts begin as good students and build on positive experiences
aauw sheryl sorby
AAUW, Sheryl Sorby
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Spatial Visualization Course after failure on PSVT:R = 77% retention female engineering students
  • Retention of female students who opted not to enroll in the course = 48%
spatial training spatial experience at the high school and college level
Spatial Training & Spatial Experience at the High School and College Level
  • Drafting Courses
  • Engineering
  • Map-reading and Real World Navigation
  • Computer Games -- Tetris
what can we do in early childhood
What can we do in Early Childhood?
  • Interventions that make a difference
    • Mapping exercises and Self-Explanation, NSEW
    • Block building
    • Math Talk
    • Spatial Language
    • Measurement
    • Power of Gesture
    • Visual Representations – Graphs, Drafting
    • Perspective taking, Zooming in and Zooming Out
    • Aiming games
    • Mechanics
  • NSEW
  • Navigation
  • Map Reading
  • Map Creation
  • Self Explanation
  • Scales
  • Encourage Higher Structure
  • Examine for Stability
  • Enclosures
  • Arches
  • Complexity
math talk
Math Talk
  • Counting
  • Cardinality
  • Equivalence
  • Nonequivalence
  • Number Symbols
  • Conventional Nominitive
  • Ordering
  • Calculation
  • Place holding
  • Klibanoff, et al, 2006
spatial language
Spatial Language
  • Examples
    • Above, below, beside
    • Out, in, outside, inside, middle, between
    • Here, there, front, back, side, top, bottom
    • Up, down, under, over, around, tall, short, low
    • Line (it) up, row, next to, corner
  • Need to Understand Measuring Units, not the Number on the Item Being Used to Measure
  • Rulers
  • Tape Measures
  • Yardsticks
  • Sex Differences
  • Spatial Understanding Increases when Using Gestures
visual representations
Visual Representations
  • Graphs
  • Drafting
  • Origami
  • Zooming In
  • Zooming Out
  • Shifting perspectives
  • Changes in scale
  • Physical Games
  • Video Games
  • JavaGami
  • Tetris
  • Tools
  • How Things Work
spatial activities
Spatial activities
  • Olsen, Eliot, & Hardy (1988)
    • jewelry making, photography, chess playing, hurdles, skiing, soccer, knitting, carpentry
  • Newcombe, Bandura, & Taylor (1983)
    • embroidery, gymnastics, house plan sketching, soccer, compass use, figure skating, pottery with wheel
round the rug
Round the Rug
  • Mary Beth Casey’s Background
  • Curious George and PBS
  • Boston College
  • Cell phone and spatial ability
spatial curriculum and stem
Spatial Curriculum and STEM
  • Students who struggle with visuospatial skills may opt out of potentially lucrative and intellectually appropriate careers because they do not think that they will be successful.
spatial curriculum and the future
Spatial Curriculum and the Future
  • What are the implications for learners, workers, library patrons, and Internet users with low spatial intelligence in an increasingly online world?
research initiatives
Research Initiatives
  • Penn State Main Campus – Mapping
  • Penn State – Behrend Campus (Erie)-- VIZ
  • Michigan Technological University -- Engineering
  • Temple University (SILC, Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center)
  • University of Wisconsin – Gender and Math
  • National Research Council –Thinking Spatially