IMPROVING SPATIAL VISUALIZATION SKILLS IN THE UNDERGRADUATE GEOSCIENCE CLASSROOM THROUGH INTERVENTIONS BASED ON COGNITIVE SCIENCE RESEARCH
ORMAND, Carol J., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College St, Northfield, MN 55057, firstname.lastname@example.org, SHIPLEY, Thomas F., Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, TIKOFF, Basil, Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin, 1215 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706, MANDUCA, Cathryn A., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057, DUTROW, Barbara L., Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, GOODWIN, Laurel B., Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1215 W. Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706, HICKSON, Thomas, Geology, Univ of St. Thomas, 2115 Summit Ave, St. Paul, MN 55105, ATIT, Kinnari R., Psychology, Temple University, Weiss Hall, 1701 North 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, GAGNIER, Kristin M., Depart of Psychology, Temple University, 1701 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122, and RESNICK, Ilyse, Psychology, Temple University, Weiss Hall, 1701 North 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122
3-D spatial visualization is an essential prerequisite for understanding geological features at all scales, such as the structure of a complex fault system, the architecture of sedimentary deposits, and the atomic structures of minerals. Moreover, spatial thinking is multi-faceted. Undergraduate geoscience students, in both introductory and upper-level courses, bring a wide range of spatial visualization skill levels to the classroom. It is not unusual for individual students to excel at some spatial visualization skills while struggling with others. However, spatial visualization improves with practice, and can improve more rapidly with intentional training. As a group of geoscience faculty members and cognitive psychologists, we are collaborating to apply the results of cognitive science research to the development of teaching materials to improve undergraduate geology majors’ spatial visualization skills, particularly their penetrative thinking skills: visualizing the interiors of 3-D objects.
Two promising teaching strategies have emerged from recent cognitive science research into spatial thinking: gesture and predictive sketching. Studies show that students who gesture about spatial relationships perform better on spatial visualization tests than students who don’t gesture, perhaps because gesture provides a mechanism for cognitive offloading. Similarly, students who sketch their predictions about the interiors of geologic block diagrams perform better on penetrative thinking tests than students who make predictions about the interiors without sketching. We are developing new teaching materials for Mineralogy, Structural Geology, and Sedimentology & Stratigraphy courses using these two strategies. Our data suggest that the research-based teaching materials we are developing may boost students’ spatial visualization skills beyond the baseline gains we have measured in the same courses without the new curricular materials.