GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 284-5
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


JAEGER, Allison J., MARZANO, Joanna and SHIPLEY, Thomas F., Department of Psychology, Temple University, 1701 North 13th Street, Weiss Hall, RM 315, Philadelphia, PA 19122,

Visualizing and reasoning about the interior structure of three-dimensional objects based on what can be seen on the outside surfaces is critical for success in the geosciences. This complex spatial skill known as penetrative thinking is especially important for understanding geoscience topics such as rock deformation and mineral structure. Despite it’s importance for success in the geosciences, many students struggle to think penetratively. The goal of the current study was to begin to investigate how an important cognitive construct, working memory capacity, may contribute to penetrative thinking performance as assessed by the Geologic Block Cross-Sectioning Test (GBCS). Research in the working memory literature suggests that working memory capacity could be related to problem solving in a variety of ways including allowing some individuals to store and process more information than others or allowing some individuals to more directly focus their attention on relevant parts of a problem. In the current study, 60 participants completed a 16-item version of the GBCS. They also completed a series of working memory measures (backward digit, running span, symmetry span) and a spatial reasoning skill measure (mental rotation). Participants also completed a second set of 10 GBCS items and were instructed to think aloud while solving the items. Initial analyses revealed that participants with high spatial skills performed better than participants with low spatial skills on all GBCS item subtypes (dipping beds, faulting, folding). However, participants with high working memory capacity only showed superior performance on the dipping bed and faulted item-types. These results indicate that there may be separate roles for spatial thinking and working memory capacity in performance on the GBCS task. Preliminary analyses of the think aloud data suggest that individuals with different cognitive skill profiles may use different solution strategies. Together, these results suggest that cognitive skill differences should be considered when developing course materials and when conducting geosciences education research. More specifically, different students may require different types of support in the classroom in order to be successful in their geosciences classes.