Cultivating spatial thinking in young STEM students

Early spatial thinking ability is an important indicator of future pursuit and success in STEM subjects and careers. A study by the University of Chicago found that “children’s special skills at the beginning of first and second grades predicted improvements in linear number line knowledge over the course of the school year.” Two experiments showed that strong spatial skills translated into number line knowledge and facility in solving math problems. The first experiment studied 152 first and second grade boys and girls from differing backgrounds in 5 urban schools. It tested them at the beginning and end of the school year to see how we they could locate numbers on a straight unmarked line with zero at one end and 1,000 at the other. To assess spatial knowledge beforehand, researchers had children identify the correct piece from 4 options that could be used to complete a square. They found that students with the strongest spatial skills showed the most growth throughout the course of the year in their ability to identify numbers on the number line. The second experiment tracked the students at 5 and a half, 6 and 8 years old. The results from this experiment were consistent with the first, showing that students with better spatial skills scored higher on the number line test and later on, at age 8, showed they performed better on calculation tests. "Improving children's spatial skills may have positive impacts on their future success in science, technology, engineering or mathematics disciplines, not only by improving spatial thinking but also by enhancing the numerical skills that are critical for achievement in all STEM fields," said Elizabeth Gunderson, a UChicago postdoctoral scholar who is lead author of the research paper.

Another indicator of spatial ability was whether spatial terms were used in the home to describe objects and events. It was found that the more often parents used words like “circle, curvy and edge” the more often the children themselves used them and thus the more able they were to understand spatial events and concepts. Tools that encourage young students to think more spatially and thus improve their abilities in STEM subjects are important if we want to help more students pursue STEM careers. Approved for young students, 3D Technology has been shown to be a valuable teaching aid and encourages students to think spatially. You’ll notice student comments after seeing 3D include key spatial terms and demonstrate a more thorough understanding of instructional material. In helping our young students perform at higher levels while nurturing their appreciation of STEM subjects, 3D technology can be a powerful ally. For more information on how 3D can help your students check out our 3DAVRover product page.

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