Friday, July 01, 2005

Spatial But Not Visual Thinking



There are many different types of spatial thinking, but a lot of confusion that visual and spatial gifts are the same. They're not. Spatial abilities can be visual -but they can also be distinct - and even at odds with visual ability. Spatial ability is particularly challenging to train because it may be the most abstract and 'non-conscious' style of learning.

Spatial thinking may involve personal experience, memories of movements or manipulations, or relationships of parts. It may involve sight, but also sound, touch, and more amorphous sensations. Spatial reasoning may involve a sequence of ideas, possibilities, or objects, or inductive leaps (Aha!) based on previously seen or experienced patterns.

In this interesting study above, researchers from Max Planck find different steps of coordination that the brain goes through when it performs a spatial reasoning task -
"V is left of X. X is left of Z. So V is left of Z" The first step involves occipital-temporal areas (visual /auditory overlap - premise considered), then the prefrontal cortex becomes activated (integration), then prefrontal and parietal lobes (multisensory, spatial) become active in the final 'validation' stage.

Spatial thinking and reasoning are hard to teach didactically, because they are best learned by direct experience, internalization and positing or rules, abstraction (thinking), and experimentation. No wonder that tweakers are ideal spatial learners.

Think of the paradox that comes with spatial thinking - the best way to 'train' is to work both with hands-on and non-hands-on approaches (abstraction, visualization). In fact, it's probably wise to make sure creative spatial thinkers get plenty of both types of practice (working with models and manipulatives, but also not working with models and manipulatives to imagine and problem solve).

So does this picture of spatial thinking encompass too much? We don't think so. What is not spatial thinking? It's not words and doesn't have to be visual images.

We've added some interesting links we stumbled upon for spatial teaching and reasoning. This is probably obvious to many of you, but strong spatial thinkers are necessary in almost all scientific and technical domains (including video gaming and software design of course), design and graphics, architecture, the military, mathematics, and more.

Spatial Reasoning Resources
Spatial Reasoning and Cognition:
NCTM: Cubes and Drawings
More Student Spatial Activities
Dyslexia & Talent: Visual-Spatial
Problem Solving Spatial Geometry

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