Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting (13-16 March 2010)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:05 PM


RESNICK, Ilyse, Department of Psychology, Temple University, Weiss Hall, 1701 North 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122, SHIPLEY, Thomas F., Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122 and MANDUCA, Cathryn A., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057,

Spatial cognition is how people think and reason about where objects are in physical space. Research suggests that spatial skills can be improved. This is important because spatial ability is a predictor of success in the STEM disciplines (Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001). Geology is of particular interest because it is an especially high spatial field, and students often struggle with its spatial elements. The broader goals with this line of research is to identify spatial skills necessary for the study of geology, skills students have trouble with, and then ways in which to facilitate student understanding of those skills.

The current study is based off of pilot data that suggests geologists are using a domain general spatial ability of transformations. In this study, geologists were presented with words that were altered in some way, and were asked to identify the word. Additional characters were added in between each letter beginning after the first letter and ending before the last letter. Words were broken up into pieces with diagonal lines. These pieces were moved either in respect to principles of faults (demonstrating domain specificity) or were randomly displaced (demonstrating domain generality). Geologists were equally good at both items, while a control group was significantly not as good as geologists on either measure (Wilcoxon Ranked Test, p<.05). This suggests geologists are able to keep the segmented parts separate to facilitate transforming the different parts back into the original object while novices are not.

The aim of the current study is to investigate if adding space between the word pieces can help facilitate the utilization of this skill. The original measure was adapted to include faulted and randomly displaced words, as well as another set of words, exploded, where the pieces were separated by space. Participants were recruited via email, networking, and at geology conferences. Geologists (n=16) were compared to two control groups in other professional fields. Both were matched for education level, with one field requiring a spatial element (chemistry, n=14) and one not (English Professors, n=10). Findings suggest increasing space between pieces facilitates transformations of stimuli back into the original word. Educational implications are discussed.