IMPROVING STUDENTS' VISUO-PENETRATIVE THINKING SKILLS THROUGH BRIEF, WEEKLY PRACTICE
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.