Spatial Thinking Workbook > Teaching Activities

Teaching Activities

The activities in this collection are designed to help undergraduate geoscience students develop their spatial visualization skills, and particularly their penetrative thinking skills: the ability to visualize spatial relations inside an object. Collectively, these exercises are the Spatial Thinking Workbook.


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Comparing Phyllosilicate Structures
Students compare the chemistry and structures of biotite, muscovite, and chlorite.

Understanding Crystal Symmetry via Gestures
Students use a small mirror to explore the meaning of mirror symmetry, and then use their hands to gesture mirror planes for a group of familiar objects. They also explore the rotational symmetry of a group of familiar objects, and then use their hands to gesture the rotational axes and rotation. Finally, they use gestures to show mirror and rotational symmetry of wooden crystal models.

Introduction to 3D Sketching
This activity provides an introduction to 3D sketching. Students sketch a cube, boxes, and cylinders. They watch a video about how to sketch boxes and cylinders, and then sketch a few more.

Linear and Planar Features
Students gesture the orientations of linear and planar features. In the first part of the exercise, students can only see one surface of a wooden block, and are asked to speculate about how planar features penetrate through the interior. Later, they uncover the other faces of the block and gesture the actual orientations.

Contractional Strain
Students use gesture to describe the bulk deformation and local deformation apparent in images of a contractional analog experiment. Students then calculate bulk shortening and bulk thickening for the experiment and describe the structures accommodating that strain.

Slices Through 3D Objects
Students identify and draw slices through an ice cream cone, a pyramid, and a beverage six-pack.

Deformation Mechanisms and Microstructures
Students match microstructures to the deformation mechanisms by which they form; compare pairs of photomicrographs chosen to highlight key differences between some common microstructures; and complete a self-quiz in which they identify microstructures and infer deformation mechanisms from photomicrographs.

Primary Structures and Rotation
Students gesture the orientations of cross-bedded sandstones, and in particular the relationship between a single cross bed and the bed sets. They do this for photos of undeformed and deformed cross-bedding.

Restraining Bends and Releasing Bends
Students use gestures to re-create the motion of fault blocks adjacent to restraining bends and releasing bends. They then answer a few questions about a map view of the San Andreas Fault and two of its bends.

Folds and Cleavage
Students explore the geometric relationship between bedding/cleavage intersections and fold axes for axial planar, fanning, and transecting cleavage.

Gestures for Silicate Structures
Students use gestures to show the structures of single and double chain silicate minerals, paying attention to where silica tetrahedra share oxygen ions and the relative positions of the tetrahedra.

Comparing Quartz Polymorphs
Students compare the structures of low-temperature and high-temperature polymorphs of quartz, relating their differences to symmetry and crystal systems.

Understanding Polyhedral Diagrams
Students identify individual polyhedra in a variety of diagrams and answer questions about shared oxygens in diagrams of common silicate structures.

Understanding Mineral Cleavage via Gestures
Students use gesture to convey information about mineral cleavage and the relationship between crystal structures and cleavage planes.

Deciphering Mineral Structure Diagrams
Students compare mineral structures shown in ball-and-stick, space filling, and polyhedral diagrams.

Sketching Block Diagrams
Students watch a video of the instructor sketching two geologic block diagrams (of flat stratigraphy and of an upright anticline), then practice sketching additional geologic block diagrams.

Slicing Cylinders
Students identify and draw slices through cylinders and partial cylinders, and use gestures to visualize slicing planes. This practice with visualizing slices through idealized geometric shapes is preparation for visualizing slices through geological features.

Slicing Fruit
Students identify and draw slices through fruit, as practice for drawing slices through more complex features.

Slicing Rocks
Students examine images of a bowl of rocks, then several rock piles, then outcrops of conglomerate and breccia. They sketch slices through the bowl of rocks, match photos of rock piles to sketches of slices through those piles, and then apply what they've learned to describe the conglomerate and breccia.

Slicing Channels
Students examine 3D channel-shaped objects and 2D slices through those objects. The purpose is to get them thinking about how the 3D geometry of a channel is reduced to a random 2D slice through the channel in a typical outcrop, so that they can recognize channel deposits.

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