Spatial Intelligence and Learning

A special issue of Journal of Intelligence (ISSN 2079-3200).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (10 April 2023) | Viewed by 23547

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
Interests: cognitive development; early spatial and numerical thinking

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Guest Editor
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA
Interests: cognitive science; cognitive development

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Guest Editor
Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology College of Education, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740, USA
Interests: cognitive development, mathematics, symbol grounding

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Spatial abilities have been linked to success in the mathematics and STEM domains more broadly. This relation emerges early in life and persists through adulthood. There is also ample evidence that spatial abilities are malleable. Nonetheless, there is little focus on spatial learning in school. This Special Issue invites papers that are relevant to fostering spatial abilities and the use of spatial tools (e.g., maps, graphs, diagrams) throughout the lifespan, a potentially important way to increase STEM success. Research relevant to this topic includes but is not limited to studies examining ways to support spatial thinking, research that develops psychometrically sound measures of spatial skill and attitudes relevant to spatial learning in various age groups, and research examining the mechanism that accounts for the relation between spatial thinking and STEM success. 

Prof. Susan C. Levine
Prof. Nora S. Newcombe
Prof. Kelly S. Mix
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Journal of Intelligence is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (13 papers)

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23 pages, 2007 KiB  
Article
Examining the Interplay between the Cognitive and Emotional Aspects of Gender Differences in Spatial Processing
by Cynthia M. Fioriti, Raeanne N. Martell, Richard J. Daker, Eleanor P. Malone, H. Moriah Sokolowski, Adam E. Green, Susan C. Levine, Erin A. Maloney, Gerardo Ramirez and Ian M. Lyons
J. Intell. 2024, 12(3), 30; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence12030030 - 04 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1175
Abstract
Women reliably perform worse than men on measures of spatial ability, particularly those involving mental rotation. At the same time, females also report higher levels of spatial anxiety than males. What remains unclear, however, is whether and in what ways gender differences in [...] Read more.
Women reliably perform worse than men on measures of spatial ability, particularly those involving mental rotation. At the same time, females also report higher levels of spatial anxiety than males. What remains unclear, however, is whether and in what ways gender differences in these cognitive and affective aspects of spatial processing may be interrelated. Here, we tested for robust gender differences across six different datasets in spatial ability and spatial anxiety (N = 1257, 830 females). Further, we tested for bidirectional mediation effects. We identified indirect relations between gender and spatial skills through spatial anxiety, as well as between gender and spatial anxiety through spatial skills. In the gender → spatial anxiety → spatial ability direction, spatial anxiety explained an average of 22.4% of gender differences in spatial ability. In the gender → spatial ability → spatial anxiety direction, spatial ability explained an average of 25.9% of gender differences in spatial anxiety. Broadly, these results support a strong relation between cognitive and affective factors when explaining gender differences in the spatial domain. However, the nature of this relation may be more complex than has been assumed in previous literature. On a practical level, the results of this study caution the development of interventions to address gender differences in spatial processing which focus primarily on either spatial anxiety or spatial ability until such further research can be conducted. Our results also speak to the need for future longitudinal work to determine the precise mechanisms linking cognitive and affective factors in spatial processing. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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18 pages, 5418 KiB  
Article
Cognitive Foundations of Early Mathematics: Investigating the Unique Contributions of Numerical, Executive Function, and Spatial Skills
by Hannah L. Whitehead and Zachary Hawes
J. Intell. 2023, 11(12), 221; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11120221 - 01 Dec 2023
Viewed by 2142
Abstract
There is an emerging consensus that numerical, executive function (EF), and spatial skills are foundational to children’s mathematical learning and development. Moreover, each skill has been theorized to relate to mathematics for different reasons. Thus, it is possible that each cognitive construct is [...] Read more.
There is an emerging consensus that numerical, executive function (EF), and spatial skills are foundational to children’s mathematical learning and development. Moreover, each skill has been theorized to relate to mathematics for different reasons. Thus, it is possible that each cognitive construct is related to mathematics through distinct pathways. The present study tests this hypothesis. One-hundred and eighty 4- to 9-year-olds (Mage = 6.21) completed a battery of numerical, EF, spatial, and mathematics measures. Factor analyses revealed strong, but separable, relations between children’s numerical, EF, and spatial skills. Moreover, the three-factor model (i.e., modelling numerical, EF, and spatial skills as separate latent variables) fit the data better than a general intelligence (g-factor) model. While EF skills were the only unique predictor of number line performance, spatial skills were the only unique predictor of arithmetic (addition) performance. Additionally, spatial skills were related to the use of more advanced addition strategies (e.g., composition/decomposition and retrieval), which in turn were related to children’s overall arithmetic performance. That is, children’s strategy use fully mediated the relation between spatial skills and arithmetic performance. Taken together, these findings provide new insights into the cognitive foundations of early mathematics, with implications for assessment and instruction moving forward. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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23 pages, 3642 KiB  
Article
Visualizing Cross-Sections of 3D Objects: Developing Efficient Measures Using Item Response Theory
by Mitchell E. Munns, Chuanxiuyue He, Alexis Topete and Mary Hegarty
J. Intell. 2023, 11(11), 205; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11110205 - 28 Oct 2023
Viewed by 1575
Abstract
Spatial ability is important for success in STEM fields but is typically measured using a small number of tests that were not developed in the STEM context, have not been normed with recent samples, or have not been subjected to modern psychometric analyses. [...] Read more.
Spatial ability is important for success in STEM fields but is typically measured using a small number of tests that were not developed in the STEM context, have not been normed with recent samples, or have not been subjected to modern psychometric analyses. Here, an approach to developing valid, reliable, and efficient computer-based tests of spatial skills is proposed and illustrated via the development of an efficient test of the ability to visualize cross-sections of three-dimensional (3D) objects. After pilot testing, three measures of this ability were administered online to 498 participants (256 females, aged 18–20). Two of the measures, the Santa Barbara Solids and Planes of Reference tests had good psychometric properties and measured a domain-general ability to visualize cross-sections, with sub-factors related to item difficulty. Item-level statistics informed the development of the refined versions of these tests and a combined measure composed of the most informative test items. Sex and ethnicity had no significant effects on the combined measure after controlling for mathematics education, verbal ability, and age. The measures ofcross-sectioning ability developed in the context of geology education were found to be too difficult, likely because they measured domain knowledge in addition to cross-sectioning ability. Recommendations are made for the use of cross-section tests in selection and training and for the more general development of spatial ability measures. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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20 pages, 3648 KiB  
Article
Unlocking the Power of Gesture: Using Movement-Based Instruction to Improve First Grade Children’s Spatial Unit Misconceptions
by Eliza L. Congdon and Susan C. Levine
J. Intell. 2023, 11(10), 200; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11100200 - 13 Oct 2023
Viewed by 1632
Abstract
Gestures are hand movements that are produced simultaneously with spoken language and can supplement it by representing semantic information, emphasizing important points, or showing spatial locations and relations. Gestures’ specific features make them a promising tool to improve spatial thinking. Yet, there is [...] Read more.
Gestures are hand movements that are produced simultaneously with spoken language and can supplement it by representing semantic information, emphasizing important points, or showing spatial locations and relations. Gestures’ specific features make them a promising tool to improve spatial thinking. Yet, there is recent work showing that not all learners benefit equally from gesture instruction and that this may be driven, in part, by children’s difficulty understanding what an instructor’s gesture is intended to represent. The current study directly compares instruction with gestures to instruction with plastic unit chips (Action) in a linear measurement learning paradigm aimed at teaching children the concept of spatial units. Some children performed only one type of movement, and some children performed both: Action-then-Gesture [AG] or Gesture-then-Action [GA]. Children learned most from the Gesture-then-Action [GA] and Action only [A] training conditions. After controlling for initial differences in learning, the gesture-then-action condition outperformed all three other training conditions on a transfer task. While gesture is cognitively challenging for some learners, that challenge may be desirable—immediately following gesture with a concrete representation to clarify that gesture’s meaning is an especially effective way to unlock the power of this spatial tool and lead to deep, generalizable learning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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22 pages, 1334 KiB  
Article
A Growth Mindset Message Leads Parents to Choose More Challenging Learning Activities
by Jing Tian, Grace Bennett-Pierre, Nadia Tavassolie, Nora S. Newcombe, Marsha Weinraub, Annemarie H. Hindman, Kristie J. Newton and Elizabeth A. Gunderson
J. Intell. 2023, 11(10), 193; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11100193 - 09 Oct 2023
Viewed by 1456
Abstract
Prior research has shown that the home learning environment (HLE) is critical in the development of spatial skills and that various parental beliefs influence the HLE. However, a comprehensive analysis of the impact of different parental beliefs on the spatial HLE remains lacking, [...] Read more.
Prior research has shown that the home learning environment (HLE) is critical in the development of spatial skills and that various parental beliefs influence the HLE. However, a comprehensive analysis of the impact of different parental beliefs on the spatial HLE remains lacking, leaving unanswered questions about which specific parental beliefs are most influential and whether inducing a growth mindset can enhance the spatial HLE. To address these gaps, we conducted an online study with parents of 3- to 5-year-olds. We found that parents’ growth mindset about their children’s ability strongly predicted the spatial HLE after controlling for parents’ motivational beliefs about their children, beliefs about their own ability, children’s age, children’s gender, and family SES. Further, reading an article about growth mindset led parents to choose more challenging spatial learning activities for their children. These findings highlight the critical role of parents’ growth mindset in the spatial HLE. Crucially, these findings demonstrate that general growth mindset messages without specific suggestions for parental practices can influence parental behavior intentions. Further, these effects were also observed in the control domain of literacy, underscoring the broad relevance of the growth mindset in the HLE. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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25 pages, 2919 KiB  
Article
Instructors’ Gestural Accuracy Affects Geology Learning in Interaction with Students’ Spatial Skills
by Corinne A. Bower and Lynn S. Liben
J. Intell. 2023, 11(10), 192; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11100192 - 04 Oct 2023
Viewed by 1279
Abstract
Complex and often unobservable STEM constructs and processes are represented using a variety of representations, including iconic gestures in which the body is configured or moved to resemble a referent’s spatial properties or actions. Earlier researchers have suggested links between gesturing and expertise, [...] Read more.
Complex and often unobservable STEM constructs and processes are represented using a variety of representations, including iconic gestures in which the body is configured or moved to resemble a referent’s spatial properties or actions. Earlier researchers have suggested links between gesturing and expertise, leading some to recommend instructional gestures. Earlier research, however, has been largely correlational; furthermore, some gestures may be made with misleading positions or movements. Using the illustrative topic of strike in structural geology, we investigated the existence and impact of inaccurate instructional gestures. In Study 1, we examined videotapes of participants who had been asked to explain strikes to another person. We observed inaccurate (non-horizontal) strike gestures not only among novices (first introduced to strike during the study itself, n = 68) but also among participants who had greater expertise in geology (n = 21). In Study 2, we randomly assigned novices (N = 167) to watch video lessons in which the instructor accompanied verbal explanations of strikes with accurate, inaccurate, or no iconic gestures and tested students’ learning on a strike-mapping task. Students with low spatial-perception skills showed no impact of their gestural condition on performance. Students with high spatial-perception skills showed no advantage from accurate gestures but performed significantly worse in the inaccurate-gesture condition. Findings suggest that recommendations to use gestures during instruction should include professional development programs that reduce the occurrence of inaccurate gestures. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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21 pages, 2233 KiB  
Article
A Novel Approach to Assessing Infant and Child Mental Rotation
by Aaron G. Beckner, Mary Katz, David N. Tompkins, Annika T. Voss, Deaven Winebrake, Vanessa LoBue, Lisa M. Oakes and Marianella Casasola
J. Intell. 2023, 11(8), 168; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11080168 - 20 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1377
Abstract
Mental rotation is a critically important, early developing spatial skill that is related to other spatial cognitive abilities. Understanding the early development of this skill, however, requires a developmentally appropriate assessment that can be used with infants, toddlers, and young children. We present [...] Read more.
Mental rotation is a critically important, early developing spatial skill that is related to other spatial cognitive abilities. Understanding the early development of this skill, however, requires a developmentally appropriate assessment that can be used with infants, toddlers, and young children. We present here a new eye-tracking task that uses a staircase procedure to assess mental rotation in 12-, 24-, and 36-month-old children (N = 41). To ensure that all children understood the task, the session began with training and practice, in which the children learned to fixate which of two houses a giraffe, facing either left or right, would approach. The adaptive two-up, one-down staircase procedure assessed the children’s ability to fixate the correct house when the giraffe was rotated in 30° (up) or 15° (down) increments. The procedure was successful, with most children showing evidence of mental rotation. In addition, the children were less likely to succeed as the angle of rotation increased, and the older children succeeded at higher angles of rotation than the younger children, replicating previous findings with other procedures. The present study contributes a new paradigm that can assess the development of mental rotation in young children and holds promise for yielding insights into individual differences in mental rotation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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19 pages, 1465 KiB  
Article
Measuring Spatial Abilities in Children: A Comparison of Mental-Rotation and Perspective-Taking Tasks
by Andrea Frick and Stefan Pichelmann
J. Intell. 2023, 11(8), 165; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11080165 - 16 Aug 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1687
Abstract
Mental rotation (MR) and perspective taking (PT) are important spatial abilities and predictive of performance in other cognitive domains. Yet, age-appropriate measures to assess these spatial abilities in children are still rare. This study examined psychometric properties of four MR tasks in 6- [...] Read more.
Mental rotation (MR) and perspective taking (PT) are important spatial abilities and predictive of performance in other cognitive domains. Yet, age-appropriate measures to assess these spatial abilities in children are still rare. This study examined psychometric properties of four MR tasks in 6- to 9-year-olds (N = 96). Two were developed specifically for children and two were based on established assessments for adults; one of each was a computerized and one was a paper–pencil task. Furthermore, spatial perspective taking (PT)—a different but closely related ability—was assessed to determine discriminant validity. Factor analyses showed that all MR tasks loaded on one single factor, with PT only loading weakly on the same factor, suggesting high construct validity. The computerized task for adults showed moderate factor loadings, constituted its own (but correlated) factor when a two-factor solution was forced, and showed the lowest reliabilities, suggesting that it was very difficult for children. On average, the new MR tasks had good to excellent reliabilities, differentiated well between age groups, and proved to be well-suited to assess MR in this age range. The PT task also showed good reliability and a steep developmental progression. Relations to verbal skills, gaming experience, and TV consumption are discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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18 pages, 695 KiB  
Article
Building Numeracy Skills: Associations between DUPLO® Block Construction and Numeracy in Early Childhood
by Katie A. Gilligan-Lee, Elian Fink, Lewis Jerrom, Megan P. Davies, Caoimhe Dempsey, Claire Hughes and Emily K. Farran
J. Intell. 2023, 11(8), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11080161 - 10 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1419
Abstract
Research shows that children’s block construction skills are positively associated with their concurrent and later mathematics performance. Furthermore, there is evidence that block construction training is particularly beneficial for improving early mathematics skills in children from low-Socio Economic Status (SES) groups who are [...] Read more.
Research shows that children’s block construction skills are positively associated with their concurrent and later mathematics performance. Furthermore, there is evidence that block construction training is particularly beneficial for improving early mathematics skills in children from low-Socio Economic Status (SES) groups who are known to have lower maths performance than their peers. The current study investigates (a) the association between block construction and mathematics in children just before the start of formal schooling (4 years-of-age in the UK) and (b) whether the association between block construction and mathematics differs between children from more compared to less affluent families. Participants in this study included 116 children (M = 3 years 11 months, SD = 3 months) who all completed numeracy, block construction, and receptive vocabulary tasks. Socio-economic status and demographic information (child age, gender, ethnicity) were also obtained from parents. Findings show a strong positive association between block construction and early numeracy skills. Block construction skills explained approximately 5% of the variation in numeracy, even after controlling for age in months, household income, and child receptive vocabulary. When separated by SES group, for children from less affluent families, block construction explained a significant amount of variability (14.5%) in numeracy performance after covariates. For children from more affluent families, block construction did not explain a significant amount of variation in numeracy. These findings suggest that, interventions involving block construction skills may help to reduce SES-based attainment gaps in UK children’s mathematics achievement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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18 pages, 782 KiB  
Article
Exploring the Influence of Item Characteristics in a Spatial Reasoning Task
by Qingzhou Shi, Stefanie A. Wind and Joni M. Lakin
J. Intell. 2023, 11(8), 152; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11080152 - 31 Jul 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 964
Abstract
Well-designed spatial assessments can incorporate multiple sources of complexity that reflect important aspects of spatial reasoning. When these aspects are systematically included in spatial reasoning items, researchers can use psychometric models to examine the impact of each aspect on item difficulty. These methods [...] Read more.
Well-designed spatial assessments can incorporate multiple sources of complexity that reflect important aspects of spatial reasoning. When these aspects are systematically included in spatial reasoning items, researchers can use psychometric models to examine the impact of each aspect on item difficulty. These methods can then help the researchers to understand the nature and development of spatial reasoning and can also inform the development of new items to better reflect the construct. This study investigated sources of item difficulty for object assembly (OA), a format for the assessment of spatial reasoning, by specifying nine item characteristics that were predicted to contribute to item difficulty. We used data from two focal samples including high-ability students in grades 3 to 7 and undergraduate students who responded to 15 newly developed OA items. Results from the linear logistic test model (LLTM) indicated that eight of the nine identified item characteristics significantly contributed to item difficulty. This suggests that an LLTM approach is useful in examining the contributions of various aspects of spatial reasoning to item difficulty and informing item development for spatial reasoning assessments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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21 pages, 4816 KiB  
Article
Spatial Visualization Supports Students’ Math: Mechanisms for Spatial Transfer
by Tom Lowrie and Tracy Logan
J. Intell. 2023, 11(6), 127; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11060127 - 20 Jun 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3837
Abstract
The present study conducted a randomized control trial to assess the efficacy of two spatial intervention programs aimed to improve Grade 4 (N = 287) students’ spatial visualization skills and math performance. The first treatment (N = 98) focused on isolated spatial training [...] Read more.
The present study conducted a randomized control trial to assess the efficacy of two spatial intervention programs aimed to improve Grade 4 (N = 287) students’ spatial visualization skills and math performance. The first treatment (N = 98) focused on isolated spatial training that included 40 min of digital spatial training across fourteen weeks. The second treatment (N = 92) embedded spatial visualization skill development into math lessons, along with the digital spatial training that provided practice of the newly acquired skills. A business-as-usual group acted as a control (N = 97). Engagement with the embedded intervention program (i.e., both lessons and digital training) showed large additive effects, highlighting the role of spatial reasoning tools to support the transfer of spatial reasoning to math. The isolated intervention program with the digital spatial training had a transfer effect on math, compared to a business-as-usual control, while spatial reasoning improvements for this group were mixed. The spatial skills targeted in the digital training had a mediation effect on math performance, despite not increasing in the pre–post-test design. The effects of the digital training cohort were moderated by initial spatial skill, with students with lower spatial reasoning making the least gains in math. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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18 pages, 968 KiB  
Article
Spatial–Numerical Magnitude Estimation Mediates Early Sex Differences in the Use of Advanced Arithmetic Strategies
by Marina Vasilyeva, Elida V. Laski, Beth M. Casey, Linxi Lu, Muanjing Wang and Hyun Young Cho
J. Intell. 2023, 11(5), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence11050097 - 18 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1358
Abstract
An accumulating body of literature points to a link between spatial reasoning and mathematics learning. The present study contributes to this line of research by investigating sex differences both in spatial representations of magnitude and in the use of arithmetic strategies, as well [...] Read more.
An accumulating body of literature points to a link between spatial reasoning and mathematics learning. The present study contributes to this line of research by investigating sex differences both in spatial representations of magnitude and in the use of arithmetic strategies, as well as the relation between the two. To test the hypothesis that sex differences in spatial–numerical magnitude knowledge mediate sex differences in the use of advanced strategies (retrieval and decomposition), two studies were conducted. Study 1 included 96 US first graders (53% girls); Study 2 included 210 Russian first graders (49% girls). All participants completed a number line estimation task (a spatially based measure of numerical magnitude knowledge) and an arithmetic strategy task (a measure of strategy choice). The studies showed parallel results: boys produced more accurate numerical magnitude estimates on the number line estimation task and used advanced strategies more frequently on the arithmetic task. Critically, both studies provide support for the mediation hypothesis (although there were some differences in the pattern obtained for the two strategies). The results are discussed in the context of broader research about the relation between spatial and mathematical skills. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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Review

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22 pages, 370 KiB  
Review
How Can We Best Assess Spatial Skills? Practical and Conceptual Challenges
by David H. Uttal, Kiley McKee, Nina Simms, Mary Hegarty and Nora S. Newcombe
J. Intell. 2024, 12(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/jintelligence12010008 - 16 Jan 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1729
Abstract
Spatial thinking skills are associated with performance, persistence, and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school subjects. Because STEM knowledge and skills are integral to developing a well-trained workforce within and beyond STEM, spatial skills have become a major focus of [...] Read more.
Spatial thinking skills are associated with performance, persistence, and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school subjects. Because STEM knowledge and skills are integral to developing a well-trained workforce within and beyond STEM, spatial skills have become a major focus of cognitive, developmental, and educational research. However, these efforts are greatly hampered by the current lack of access to reliable, valid, and well-normed spatial tests. Although there are hundreds of spatial tests, they are often hard to access and use, and information about their psychometric properties is frequently lacking. Additional problems include (1) substantial disagreement about what different spatial tests measure—even two tests with similar names may measure very different constructs; (2) the inability to measure some STEM-relevant spatial skills by any existing tests; and (3) many tests only being available for specific age groups. The first part of this report delineates these problems, as documented in a series of structured and open-ended interviews and surveys with colleagues. The second part outlines a roadmap for addressing the problems. We present possibilities for developing shared testing systems that would allow researchers to test many participants through the internet. We discuss technological innovations, such as virtual reality, which could facilitate the testing of navigation and other spatial skills. Developing a bank of testing resources will empower researchers and educators to explore and support spatial thinking in their disciplines, as well as drive the development of a comprehensive and coherent theoretical understanding of spatial thinking. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Spatial Intelligence and Learning)
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