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Spatial STEM+C: Developing Computational Thinking and Mathematical Skills in Children with Spatial Puzzles, Games, and Building Toys

We tend to take spatial thinking for granted when we pack a car for an extended vacation or figure out instructions for putting a bookshelf together. Spatial thinking becomes more evident and challenging in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For instance, surgeons integrate their knowledge of anatomy and physiology with readings from X-rays and MRIs to pinpoint and repair physical ailments. Weather and climate scientists interpret complicated patterns of winds, temperatures, atmospheric pressures, and humidity provided by satellite data and statistical models. Computer programmers and data scientists visualize how to break problems into manageable chunks and debug errors in cyber systems and software.

Unfortunately, some students—particularly girls and, possibly, children from impoverished environments—tend to have lower spatial thinking abilities. Lower spatial thinking ability may cause them to struggle in courses students take in high school and college to move on to STEM occupations. Fortunately, spatial instruction in middle school, high school, and college has been shown to be effective in helping students succeed in gatekeeping STEM courses. The Spatial STEM+C project is exploring whether such training may be useful in the elementary grades. It is examining the impact that teaching with spatial puzzles, games, and building kits has on children’s computational thinking abilities and mathematical performance in the K-5 grades. Lessons learned from this project will be used to develop a model for spatial instruction in elementary school and inform how pre-service and in-service teachers may be trained to integrate spatial instruction into their classroom practices.

## Steven Moore

PresenterThank you for visiting the Spatial STEM+C video! We hope that you enjoy the video and get some insights about how spatial thinking and computational thinking might be connected with one another As we move into the final half of the second year of our project, we are particularly interested in feedback regarding the following issues:

We welcome your questions and comments and look forward to an interesting and productive showcase!

## Kinnari Atit

Hi Steven,

Thank you for sharing your video. I am interested to hear about the kinds of spatial thinking interventions you implemented in the classroom. Did they involve computational thinking activities that required spatial reasoning?

Thank you!

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterKinnari - I think the spatial thinking activities that had the most direct impact on computational thinking were the mapping and treasure hunt activities. One mapping activity that 3rd-5th graders implemented was using google maps to create directions from home to school that one student would give to another. Similarly, we created a treasure hunt in which students used a campus map we created with a drone that had treasure locations on it. After they physically found treasures they went back to the classroom and wrote directions to find three treasures and then gave their directions to another student to see how accurate the directions were. These kinds of activities developed computational problem solving process such as: identifying a problem (abstraction and decomposition); gathering and representing data; generating a plan/solution; implementing solutions; assessing solutions/debugging.

Hope this helps,

Gary

Shuchi Grover

## Kinnari Atit

Thanks! I also wanted to know if you collected any measures looking at prior experience/interest. I can imagine that might influence your results.

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterKinnari - yes we created a survey that included questions about what the students do based on their own interests. Things like participation in sports, tinkering/building stuff, computer games (Minecraft, etc). We agree that many of these activities influence their spatial thinking development.

gary

## Jennie Lyons

I am curious as to whether you are using the same instruments for elementary school as you referred to as being successful in middle school studies.

## Janet Yowell

Hi there,what a fascinating project. (And, I love the James Bond theme for the first 1/2 of the video -- very snappy!).

With regard to your own feedback desired, is spatial thinking the same as spatial visualization (SV)? If so, Jacob Segil at the University of Colorado Boulder has done some fascinating research on how college-aged students ' SV skills can increase over time and with practice. He has also co-authored an SV curricular unit that is housed on teachengineering.org for younger students to practice the skill. (And this isn't a plug, per say, as the curriculum is available free of charge for any educator to use -- this is just another resource to mention that leads I think to the social justice angle).

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterJennie - yes we used some of the middle school tasks in 3rd-5th. We made modifications but the concepts were the same. For K-2 the concepts were similar but there was far less written components, more emphasis on visual and diagramatic representations.

gary

## Ben Sayler

Have you developed your own assessments or are you using existing assessments? I'm particularly interested in how you test the impact of spatial thinking activities on computational thinking. Very interesting!

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterBen - we used a modified version of a validated computational thinking assessment created by Marcos Roman Gonzalez for 6th - 12th graders. We modified it and used 4 questions for kinder and 8 questions for 1st and 2nd grade. We will have the pre/post results from experimental and control groups in August/Sept. We are anxious to see the results!

Gary

## Ben Sayler

Wow, seems like quite a shift from middle and high school students to K-2 students! Has it been working okay? Did you have to heavily modify? Can you give an example of the kind of questions on the original instrument and how you modified?

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterBen - In kinder we modified an existing computational assessment - we eliminated the sentences/words and used only spatial elements in the assessment and had the teachers and helpers work through examples of the test items in detail. For kinder the type of questions focused on identifying a pathway that 'pac-man' took to get to a 'ghost'. The original had words in the question, we eliminated them, and in the answers used directional arrows.

gary

## Jennie Lyons

I also have to say I am somewhat taken aback by the photo that you use for the example of "...students with less developed spatial thinking abilities. . . "

## Steven Moore

PresenterI debated with myself about whether to include a photo with that statement. My intention was to have a graphic to express frustration and not to portray any particular category of student. The stock photo replaced a graphic used in previous versions of the presentation. I will rethink that graphic in future presentations. Thanks for your feedback!

## Jennie Lyons

I, too, am curious to see the results. Also, will there be any assessment as to which component of computational thinking is being addressed? perseverance, etc.

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterJennie - the components of computational thinking that are being assessed include: abstraction, decomposition, gathering and representing data, generating a plan, and assessing solutions. Indirectly, we are assessing self-regulation skills by examining the extent to which many students did not try to answer pre-test questions but answered the same post-test questions.

gary

## Verónica Escobar

Well, I speak a little English! This idea looks great. In recent years, technology is very important, but this type of activities and different instruments develop thinking and mathematical skills. This type of instruments has been displaced by digital devices and I think they should be used more frequently or in conjunction with the computer.

## John Devitry

For teachers interested in developing a students Spatial Thinking take a look at this completely free class material:

www.GearupU.comhttps://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10040...

## Katie Rich

Hi Steven and team,

First, super cute video. I love the first minute!

Second, it's interesting to me how you're placing CT still as the intermediary between spatial thinking and mathematics. Can you explain a bit more about the connections, and why you chose the five particular aspects of CT (highlighted at about 2:18 in your video)?

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterKatie - the five aspects you refer to are based on the CSTA and ISTE frameworks/standards. In general, we concur with Kalelioglu, 2016, and Roman-Gonzalez, 2016 that computational thinking can be characterized as a problem solving process that shares fundamental similarities to all types of problem solving (spatial, mathematical, scientific, engineering, etc.).

Gary

## Shuchi Grover

Very cool project! I'm so glad to see this focus on spatial thinking skills.

I'm interested in knowing more about the assessments you are using for measuring CT? Looking forward to seeing the results :)

## Steven Moore

PresenterThank you, Shuchi. We will be encapsulating our results into a free e-book starting this summer. We'll contact you when the e-book is available later this year.

## Kip Glazer

I loved the used of outdoor activities in the beginning of the video. I also appreciated the explanation regarding the impact of spatial thinking skills in the STEM field. I would love a bit more explanation of "age-appropriate assessments of spatial, computational and mathematical abilities." I am interested in the tool that you used.

## Gary Scott

Co-PresenterKip - We used several standard spatial assessments and ones that we created for K-2. For instance in kinder we developed a left-right assessment. Similarly in kinder we modified an existing computational assessment - we eliminated the sentences and used only spatial pieces in the assessment and had the teachers and helpers work through examples of the test items in detail. For mathematics we used the school's summative assessments.

Gary

Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.