• 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. 10
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


MURPHY, Rachel1, ORMAND, Carol J.2, GOODWIN, Laurel3, SHIPLEY, Thomas F.4, MANDUCA, Cathryn2 and TIKOFF, Basil5, (1)Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin - Madison, 1215 W. Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706, (2)Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College St, Northfield, MN 55057, (3)Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1215 W. Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706, (4)Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, (5)Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin, 1215 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706,

Visuo-penetrative thinking skill – the ability to imagine a slice through the interior of a solid – is essential in many sub-disciplines in the geosciences, as well as in other STEM disciplines and beyond. It is particularly key in structural geology, where a thorough understanding of complex deformation includes being able to visualize slices through the deformed region. Encouraged by previous researchers’ findings that spatial visualization skills can be improved through practice, we designed a set of weekly exercises for an undergraduate course in Structural Geology and assessed their effectiveness in improving students’ penetrative thinking skills.

In the spring of 2010, we collected baseline data, administering pre- and post-tests of students’ mental rotation, penetrative thinking, and disembedding skills in the Structural Geology class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Results showed a wide range of spatial thinking skills. On average, students made modest gains on all three tests, but only the gains in penetrative thinking were statistically significant. In the spring of 2011, we administered the same pre- and post-tests in the same course, but also instituted a series of weekly penetrative thinking exercises at the beginning of each lab period. Each exercise was designed to take 10-15 minutes, and the exercises varied in content and form: some were paper-and-pencil exercises; some involved simple analog modeling; some used computer visualizations. Most focused on geological structures; one used non-geological objects. All required students to sketch one or more cross-sections. On average, students in 2011 made greater gains on all three of the spatial skills tests than students in 2010, and all of those gains were statistically significant. We attribute these greater gains to the targeted weekly exercises. These results demonstrate that successful interventions designed to strengthen penetrative thinking skills may also help develop other aspects of spatial thinking.

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