• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 3:20 PM


KASTENS, Kim A.1, PISTOLESI, Linda1 and PASSOW, Michael J.2, (1)Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000, (2)Dwight Morrow HS, 274 Knickerbocker Rd, Englewood, NJ 07631,

Each year, approximately 166,000 students in New York State take "Regents Earth Science" and are assessed by a state-set end-of-year exam. Building on research showing that spatial thinking is important in Earth Science and can be improved through instruction and practice, we are designing a spatial thinking professional development (PD) program for teachers of this course. "Spatial thinking" in this context involves envisioning, manipulating, or drawing meaning from the position, shape, orientation, trajectory, or configuration of objects or phenomena.

In the first stage of our project, we are analyzing items from recent exams to quantify the extent and type of spatial thinking assessed. Our coding system identifies spatial concepts, spatial representations, spatial skills, and sub-categories within these. Preliminary results (from 6 exams) confirm that the exam is rich in spatial thinking opportunities, with 65% of all items either requiring or benefitting from use of spatial thinking. The most common spatial representations are maps (32%) and profiles (17%), expressed as percentage of the spatially-coded items, allowing multiple codes per item. The most common spatial concepts are configuration (54%), position (51%), motion (41%) and direction (33%). The most common spatial skills are mental animation (28%) and representational correspondence (14%). Visual penetrative ability, although prominent in other Earth Science curricula, plays a minor role (2%) on this exam.

This analysis will inform the design of a pilot PD program to be tested during the Earth2Class teacher workshops ( Currently, most teachers receive little instruction on what spatial thinking is or how to foster it during their pre-service or in-service training. Our long term vision is that school districts committed to data-driven improvement will be able to identify teachers and students who are doing poorly on spatially-demanding items and then use our spatial thinking PD techniques. Although improved test scores are the "hook," the real goal is to foster higher order thinking skills. After inspecting hundreds of test items, we consider that the spatial thinking demanded by the Regent exam is a faithful representation of practices used by geoscientists in research and practical applications.

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