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.  

1 comment:

  1. Eric, this is very interesting. I teach physics at the University of New Hampshire, and am working with local schools on redesigning their science curricula to focus more on skill building, and teaching through inquiry and play-based learning. I place a heavy emphasis on building reasoning skills (in what I want schools to do, as well as what I do with my physics students in my university classes) - in particular deductive and spatial reasoning. I'd love to see your Spatial Integration Matrix for more ideas on integrating spatial reasoning with the Next Gen Science Standards. Could you email it to me at msbriggs at unh dot edu ? Thanks!