Saturday, April 26, 2014

What Is So Spatial About the NGSS? A Curriculum Steeped in Spatial Thinking (Part 3)

In 2006, Learning to Think Spatially was published by the National Research Council.  Among its six recommendations was for the creation of spatial thinking standards based on existing content standards (National Research Council, 2006).  The goal is to allow students to develop spatial thinking in the context of relevant content.  While spatial standards have not been developed, current standards can be mined for spatial opportunities.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer a unique opportunity to develop spatial thinking in the context of a STEM education.

The integration of spatial thinking into science curriculum is a natural fit.   Many learning activities lend themselves to spatial thinking.  The example shown  requires spatial visualization.  In this case, students were asked to construct the blades of a windmill in order to turn the axle and pull up a cup full of washers.  To be successful, students needed to visualize how the air currents would flow across the blades of their windmill.  Aligning the blades so the flat side is facing the air current does not turn axle nor does turning the blades so the edge is facing the current.  Students have to realize that the blades must be an an angle.  Optimizing this angle produces greater rotation strength.

The primary difficulty of integration is not finding activities that require spatial thinking. There are plenty of rich science activities that are dripping with spatial connections.  The problem is determining the developmental appropriateness of these activities that has slowed many efforts at integration.  To overcome this dilemma and start the integration process, a matrix was created (sample at the end of the document).  This matrix listed each of the elementary performance expectations (PE) in grades kindergarten through grade five (ages 5-10 respectively) of the NGSS.  Spatial vocabulary within each PE is highlighted.   Using this as a starting point each PE was classified using the lists of spatial thinking skills below.

Abstract Cognitive Skills
Geospatial Skills
  • mental rotation
  • disembedding
  • visualization
  • perception
  • perspective taking

  • location
  • distance
  • region
  • network
  • overlay
  • scale
  • heterogeneity
  • dependence
  • objects
  • fields

Spatially focused essential question were developed and used as a filter for creating lesson seeds.  Lesson seeds consist of a broad overview of an activity idea and, where appropriate, associated resources.  Using this method, 62% of the PEs had spatial connections. Work will continue to expand on this initial analysis to broaden the scope of spatial connections.  This document will be used as a guideline for curriculum developers as they create a full elementary science curriculum aligned to the NGSS.

If you are interested in receiving the fall "Next Generation Science Standards Spatial Integration Matrix" please contact me and I will be happy to email it to you.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Is So Spatial About the NGSS? (Part 2)

During my last post, I laid out my argument for why we should think about the NGSS in spatial terms.  So now the obvious question is "So what?".  Why should we teach our students to think spatially?  Can it even be done?  Aren't these abilities set at birth?  

The ability to conceptualize the world in spatial terms has been strongly linked to success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related careers. A longitudinal study published in 2009 (Wai, 2009) details 50 years of research that solidifies this relationship. It showed that students with high spatial 
ability tended to choose STEM related careers at a very high rate.  As with many intellectual abilities, the perception that spatial ability is a fixed set of mental attributes has been overturned. Several studies have shown that a  student’s spatial ability can be cultivated through practice and meaningful application (Lee, 2009; Lubinski, 2010; Levine, 2005; Sorby, 2006) . However, spatial thinking has been largely ignored by public education with a focus on verbally or lecture based instruction being the norm. When spatial thinking is discussed, it is often maligned as a skill set relegated to trades and industries (i.e. carpentry, plumbing, welding, masonry, automotive repair) and not worthy of intellectual pursuit. However, some of the best minds of our time can trace their successes to the application spatial thinking. Albert Einstein once said that “The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanisms of thought” and later concluding that his thoughts “are more or less clear images.” Nikola Tesla, a dynamic inventor who created the basis for alternating current, was rumored to be able to mentally build his inventions and visualize the working parts (Chandrasekhar, 2006). The reality of DNA’s double helix could not have been conceptualized except for the spatial cognition of Watson and Crick. However, as can be deduced from the examples given, there is a perception that ability to conceive of objects and their relationships in space is a white male dominated trait. This then begs the question of whether underrepresented populations (female, African-American, and Hispanic) in the STEM fields possess the capacity for spatial thinking and if so, what hinders its expression?

Several recent studies have concluded that the limiting factor influencing success in STEM programs regardless of sub-group is a lack of access to spatially related activities (Ault, 2010; Dixon 1995; Sorby 2012; Study 2004). Given the opportunity to think spatially, underrepresented populations perform as well as majority populations. It can therefore be speculated that the achievement gap cannot be overcome until the opportunity gap is overcome.

Ault, H., & Samuel, J. (2010). Assessing and Enhancing Visualization Skills of Engineering Studetns in Africa: A Comparative Study. Engineering Design Graphics Journal, 12-20.
Chandrasekhar, R. (2006, August 27). Chandrasekhar. Retrieved May 5, 2011, from Reflections on the Mind of Nikola Tesla:
Dixon, J. K. (1995). Limited English Proficiency and Spatial Visualization in Middle School Students Construction of the Concepts of Reflection and Rotation. The Bilingual Research Journal, 221-247.
Janelle, D. G. and M. F. Goodchild (2011). Concepts, Principles, Tools, and Challenges in Spatially Integrated Social Science. In Nyerges, T.L., H. Couclelis, and R. McMaster (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of GIS & Society. Sage Publications. pp 27-45
Lee, Jongwon; Bednarz, Robert. Effect of GIS Learning on Spatial Thinking Journal of Educational Psychology. v33 n2 p183-198 May 2009
Lubinski, D. (2010). Spatial ability and STEM: A sleeping giant for talent identification and development. Personality and Individual Differences, 344–351.
National Research Council.  Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006. 1. Print.
Susan C. Levine, Marina Vasilyeva, Stella F. Lourenco, Nora S. Newcombe, and Janellen Huttenlocher.  Socioeconomic Status Modifies the Sex Difference in Spatial Skill Psychological Science November 2005 16: 841-845, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01623.
Sorby, S. Gender Differences in Spatial Reasoning Skills and Their Effects on Success.
Sorby, S. (2012). AC 2012-3305: Spatial Skills Among Minority and International Engineering Students. American Society of Engineering Education.
Study, N. E. (2004). Assessing Visualization Abilities in Minority Engineering Students. American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition (p. 11). Petersburg: American Society for Engineering Education.
University of Redlands. (2013). About LENS. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from LENS:
Uttal, D. H., Meadow, N. G., Tipton, E., Hand, L. L., Alden, A. R., Warren, C., & Newcombe, N.S. (2012, June 4). The Malleability of Spatial Skills: A Meta-Analysis of Training Studies. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028446

Wai, J., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2009). Spatial Ability for STEM Domains: Aligning Over 50 Years of Cumulative. Journal of Educational Psychology, 817-835

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Is So Spatial About the NGSS? (Part 1)

Over the last seventeen years,  I have integrated geospatial technologies into my science instruction.  As a high school environmental science teacher and elementary teacher, I have watched students grasp complicated patterns and complete complex tasks.   When I was presented with the opportunity to write an NGSS based curriculum for elementary, I knew geospatial technologies would be part of it, but I did not know where to put it. I then read the practices in the NGSS:

Developing and using models explicitly demands spatial reasoning to comprehend.  In many cases, the scale of a model (solar system, cell, atom) is manipulated to ease understanding.  We also use models to explain geologic phenomena such as tectonic plate movement.  In this case, the learner has to mentally "see" the movement of the plates.   

The act of mentally visualization is spatial thinking or reasoning in its purest form.  A more thorough definition was developed by Diana Sinton.

An ability to visualize and interpret location, position, distance, direction, relationships, movement, and change over space. 

She just published a wonderful book that offers an easy introduction to the topic called "The People's Guide to Spatial Thinking".  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Coming Out of the Fog: Getting Clarity on NGSS Unit Structure

I have had the opportunity to meet several members of the NGSS writing team at the NSTA conference.   So, you know me, I started asking them with questions.  

  1. How were the topic pages organized (this has preoccupied me for months)?  The most logical response has been that through the process of development, the team joined the PEs that would hang together under a theme.  
  2. Were specific culminating events/performances in  mind when they organized the PEs?  No, they were specifically told not to do that.  The committee did not want to appear to dictate curriculum.
  3. I asked about my proposed structure of using the topic pages as the basis for units.  The major concerns were student endurance and force fitting.  Looking at some of the unit lengths, I can see the endurance issue.  The grade 3 "Forces and Interactions" topic pages is going to be a long unit.   
  4. This particular page  brings me to something that I have been feeling lately as I watch the direction of some of the unit outlines my team is developing.  So, here is the revised plan.  If it fits and is logical, write it as one unit (see "Bee and Engineer").  If it feels forced, make it one storyline but with "sub-units" with specific performance assessments.  
My current curriculum has an example of this idea.  Last year, we re-developed a unit that had some serious implementation issues.  It covered Newton's Laws and for unknown reasons also included light (reflection, refraction).  The masterful writing team created a unit scenario focused on the Orion Deep Space System.  Students built straw rockets to demonstrate their understanding of Newtons Laws.  Part 2 of the unit, challenged students to create a "visual docking system" for the crew module (aka Periscope).   See image below.  The astronaut sits in the position shown but has to see out the window.  Build a device that will allow the astronaut to see out the window in order to dock if the ISS.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Coming Live from the NSTA Conference (part 1)

Here is your design idea for the day.  Make a hat that protects you from a specific type of weather.  After it is built, your partner has to guess what weather it is made for based on evidence.  Here is my hat.  Connects to the K. Weather and Climate-  Use tools and materials to design and build a structure that will reduce the warming effect of sunlight on an area.*