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Showcase January 2016: The Cognitive Development Society’s pre-conference on The Development of Spatial Thinking

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The Cognitive Development Society’s pre-conference on The Development of Spatial Thinking

Carla Abad, Rosalie Odean and Shannon M. Pruden

Florida International University

The Cognitive Development Society’s pre-conference on The Development of Spatial Thinking, organized by Dr. Shannon Pruden (Florida International University), drew both experts and emerging scholars together for an engaging discussion of spatial research.

The conference centered around five main aims, which were addressed throughout the talks, posters, and discussion:

  1. Highlight what we currently know about the development of spatial thinking both in and out of educational settings.
  2. Explore recent empirical advances on the ways to improve spatial thinking.
  3. Invite discussion about the best ways to educate spatial thinking.
  4. Increase discourse on how to translate what we know about the development of children’s spatial thinking into effective interventions, curricula, and policy.
  5. Stimulate new research on the development of spatial thinking.

Figure 1

In his plenary talk, Dr. David Uttal (Northwestern University) discussed how maps can be used to integrate models of space. Uttal challenged the audience to consider how new technologies like GPS are changing the way we think as maps become a less important part of our daily lives.

Dr. Roberta Golinkoff (University of Delaware) gave an engaging talk about how shapes are taught in homes and schools. She reminded us to go beyond the stars, and show children all sorts of shapes including those in unusual forms.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to hear from some emerging scholars in the field of spatial development.

Figure 2

Dr. Vanessa Simmering (University of Wisconsin) guided us through the complex relation between language and spatial skills. Her work highlighted the importance of the quality of spatial language for the development of spatial skills.

Dr. Elizabeth Gunderson (Temple University) and her graduate student Noora Hamdan showed us the importance of spatial representations for math learning. Their work shows that students are better able to learn and transfer knowledge when using a number line to understand fractions.

Figure 3

In her talk, Dr. Jamie Jirout (Rhodes College) brought us back to the first talk of the day by illustrating how even the youngest children start to use basic maps to find objects. Her work finds that experience with scaled maps and feedback led to improvement in finding objects on the most complex tasks.

In the last of the emerging scholar talks, Dr. Colleen Ganley (Florida State University) discussed exciting new longitudinal research on the link between math and spatial thinking. In her work, she found that elementary school children’s spatial skills predict math performance the following year.

Figure 4

In a panel moderated by Dr. Alina Nazareth (Temple University), Dr. Beth Casey (Boston College), Dr. Jennifer Cromely (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), and Dr. Susan Levine (University of Chicago) engaged the audience in an open conversation on education and the translation of spatial development research to the real world. The panelists suggested both small and large scale projects are necessary to move spatial reasoning research to the everyday lives of children and their families, from researchers talking to parents and schools to collaborating with large television companies and other media producers.

Dr. Nora Newcombe (Temple University) gave closing remarks and steered us to an exciting display of new research at the poster presentations.

We hope this piece will inspire those who were able to attend the pre-conference and those who were not to continue to think about new ways to be an advocate for the importance of spatial thinking.

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