Symposium: Spatial Cognition in STEM Learning

Spatial Cognition 2020, Riga, Latvia

Symposium: Spatial Cognition in STEM Learning

Organizers: Gavin Duffy, Sheryl Sorby, Guenter Maresch


In the 1960s, psychologists began to examine the link between spatial cognition and success in a variety of careers and concluded that these skills are important for scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians, or what we now refer to as STEM. Numerous studies since then have shown there is a strong link between well-developed spatial skills and success in STEM fields. For most STEM fields, the ability to quickly mentally rotate 3-D objects seems to be especially important. Unfortunately, of all the cognitive skills, speeded 3-D rotation abilities exhibit robust gender differences, favoring males and weak spatial cognitive skills could be a factor in the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. Fortunately, numerous studies have also shown that spatial skills are highly malleable, even into adulthood meaning that students, especially women, can develop these vital skills for STEM success. The specific mechanisms through which spatial skills contribute to STEM success are not known at this time. Some have demonstrated that skill in spatial thinking is required for non-routine problem-solving. Others have found that there is a link between spatial skills and creativity and innovation. Numerous studies have shown the link between spatial and mathematical skills. Since mathematics is the foundation of all STEM fields, high spatial ability could result in success in mathematics, which, in turn, leads to success in a person’s chosen STEM field.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together those who are interested in exploring the relationship between spatial cognition and specific aspects of STEM learning.  This includes (i) studies that have measured the relationship between different factors of spatial ability and various indicators of success in STEM learning, (ii) intervention studies that have tested spatial ability training and measured its impact on spatial ability development and transfer to STEM learning tasks and (iii) intervention studies in which STEM learning and teaching activities have been adapted to become more spatial or to highlight the spatial aspects so those with low levels of spatial ability are scaffolded to a greater extent when learning STEM concepts.  How these issues are manifest in all levels of STEM education, from primary school through to higher education, are included in this symposium.  Issues of gender and diversity in the spatial ability – STEM learning relationship are also addressed including how girls and boys respond to interventions to improve spatial ability.

List of presenters and titles of papers

Name Title
Maria Kozhevnikov, National University of Singapore Creativity, Visual Abilities and Cognitive Style, and Their Role in Art and Science Education
Marion Zoeggeler and Guenter Maresch, University of Salzburg Students’ Spatial Ability and Solving-Strategies for Spatial Geometrical, Mathematical, and Physical Tasks
Rachel Harding, Technological University Dublin An Investigation of the relationship between middle school science students’ spatial ability and scientific reasoning
Sheryl A. Sorby, University of Cincinnati Scaling Spatial Interventions to Support STEM Learning: The Role of Teacher
Guenter Maresch and Marion Zoeggeler, University of Salzburg The Basic Elements of Spatial Thinking
Gavin Duffy1, Keith Kavanagh2, Sheryl Sorby3 1 Technological University Dublin, 2 ESB Networks DAC, 3 University of Cincinnati A study of cognitive ability in the context of apprenticeship education: recruitment, retention and gender differences.