We are back. And there's nothing like witnessing your daughter's successful surgery to be reminded of the importance of spatial and motor expertise. Our surgeons at UCLA did an absolutely phenomenal job and we want to make sure conventional education doesn't snuff out the futures of those spatially-talented young people who will be tomorrow's surgical heroes.
The initial procedure was very difficult and had to leverage resources and meticulous attention to detail. The reconstructive surgeon had to use a great deal of ingenuity and spatial / motor experience - how things manipulated, rotated, and used in different ways. Not anything one could simply get from a book.
Talking to the residents afterward, we had chance to hear how difficult it was to learn surgical expertise even from a master - mainly because some of the most critical pieces of information are neither visual or verbal...they're in "the hands".
Even when a spatial/ motor expert and novice watch the same procedure, the expert will learn more than the novice (see the fMRI activation patterns below for novice and expert dancers). The rich get richer and the poor remain poor.
All the more reason, we should take notice when students demonstrate flashes of motor / spatial genius, promise in activities that require building or working with their hands, and yes, even high scores on those visual-spatial psychometric subtests. Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between surgical skills and performance on the embedded figures test and tests of spatial relations, mental rotation, etc..
Spatial expertise does tend to run in families, so if dad and / or mom can recognize it, that is a major obstacle overcome. Also "spatial kids" are notoriously late bloomers in the classroom because more brain power is devoted to spatial relationships than to words. But it's also important to realize that we need to find enough time and opportunities for these kids to "do" - to make, take apart, and build things with their hands, and to learn from more skilled teachers whenever they can. Spatial education usually takes place out of school; and if parents or teachers aren't spatial themselves, they might not think of it for one of their spatial diamonds-in-the rough.
Interestingly, technology has some promise of helping teachers and students bridge the gap of spatial learning; simulators are now being designed to combine virtual reality experiences with haptic feedback so that students can learn by doing and feeling, although not when the stakes are always high.
Spatial Abilities in Laparoscopic Surgery / in Applied Spatial Cognition
Motor Expertise fmri pdf
NEJM -- Teaching Surgical Skills -- Changes in the Wind
Identifying Gifted Students with Spatial Strengths pdf
Neural Correlates of Expert Skills pdf
Effect of Visual-Spatial Ability on Learning Surgical Skills abstract
Surgery Haptic Simulators
Eide Neurolearningblog: Gamers and Visual-Spatial Expertise: Hands of a Surgeon?