Learning to Think Spatially

Via the latest ArcNews, I see that the National Research Council has published a new report, Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. You can buy the book via the NRC site or read it online.

The report seems to have originated as a study of GIS (think ArcView or MyWorld) in K-12, which isn’t surprising considering the project sponsors: ESRI, USGS, NASA, NSF, and the National Geographic Society. But the committee expanded its scope to address spatial thinking in general. Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction.

The title of the proposal for this report was Support for Thinking Spatially: The Incorporation of Geographic Information Science Across the K-12 Curriculum. Given the need for increased scientific and technological literacy in the workforce and in everyday life, we must equip K-12 graduates with skills that will enable them to think spatially and to take advantage of tools and technologies — such as GIS (geographic information systems) (see Box 1.3) — for supporting spatial thinking. Therefore, the charge contained two questions, the first of which was intended to generate recommendations for levels of technology (hardware and software), system supports (e.g. teaching materials), curriculum scope and sequence (e.g. the role of necessary precursors), and pre-service and in-service training, while the second was intended to generate recommendations based on an assessment of theoretical and empirical approaches, in psychology and education, relevant to the development of knowledge and skills that underpin the use of GIS.

However, the committee recognized that the charge could not be met without first addressing the educational role of spatial thinking itself. New and better support tools for education — such as GIS — may well be necessary and appropriate, but to what purpose and in what contexts? The answer might seem obvious from the proposal title: to support spatial thinking across the K-12 curriculum. However, such a response points to a fundamental question: Why — and where — do we need to support spatial thinking across the K-12 curriculum? Why shoudl we invest in better GIS or other support tools? What is the role of spatial thinking in everyday life, the workplace, and science?

After learning to appreciate the fundamental importance of spatial thinking, the committee came to a new understanding of the charge. Questions about the current role and future development of GIS as a support system could be answered satisfactorily only after the societal and therefore educational need for spatial thinking, and the ways in which we learn to think spatially, were understood.

Therefore, the committee developed an understanding of two additional questions: (1) What are the nature and character of spatial thinking? (2) How does the capacity for spatial thinking develop and how might it be fostered systematically by education and training? This revision to the committee charge was approved by the National Research Council (NRC) and met with consent from the project sponsors.

Update: this isn’t that new, as Matt noted last year. But it’s still worth a look.

posted January 06, 2007 by eric

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