THE COMPLEXITY OF TEACHING MINERALOGY: 3-D VISUALIZATION AND SPATIAL SKILLS
While spatial thinking is pervasive, and its use increasing, it is under instructed (NRC, 2006). Experts and novices do not see equivalent depictions of information. Ug geoscience students enter major’s courses with a wide range of spatial skill levels as demonstrated by a recent 4-year study in a mineralogy course at LSU, a research-intensive public institution. On standardized pre-tests, nearly 90% of students scored below 50% on mental rotation and 2-D slicing of a 3-D object. Studies suggest that spatial skills are malleable and can be taught through intentionally developed exercises. Using mineralogical materials, i.e. CrystalMaker®, specifically developed assignments require students to ‘see’ hidden features, identify (dis)similarities by rotating and manipulating crystal structures, slice a 3-D structure/object to observe its 2-D representation, and relate microscopic to macroscopic features. By intentionally instructing spatial thinking, students demonstrated statistically significant improvements in their spatial and penetrative thinking by up to 20 % as assessed by pre- and post-tests during a single semester. While some students did not improve, most students did. Females improved more in two slicing tests. Mineralogy courses provide a key entree into spatial understanding and can be a cornerstone to impart visualization skills, enhance penetrative and critical thinking, and can transform curricula to remove a significant barrier to success in the geosciences.