Engaging Your Students with Visual Representations: Why, What, and How

Thursday, Friday 8-11am PT / 9am-12pm MT / 10am-1pm CT / 11am-2pm ET Online


Nicole LaDue, Northern Illinois University
Tim Shipley, Temple University

Visual-spatial reasoning is important for understanding many of the structures and processes in the geosciences. To make learning more efficient, instructors must engage students using strategies that facilitate their spatial reasoning. This workshop will present evidence from the science of learning about spatial reasoning and using visuals, demonstrate tools for engaging students with visuals in an in-person and online learning environment, suggest strategies for structuring student engagement with visual spatial concepts, and engage participants in developing an activity to promote visual spatial reasoning in their classroom. Activities produced by participants of this workshop will be included in a Pedagogy in Action page for the GeoClick project (NSF #1835950).

This workshop will provide the first 40 eligible* participants with a $200 stipend. All stipends will be disbursed after the Rendezvous.

*Please note that stipends are NSF-funded so to be supported by this funding, participants must be either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or in the employ of a U.S. institution. All participants are expected to participate in the entire workshop and submit an activity at the end of the workshop.


Have you noticed students struggling to understand content from your courses that deal with three-dimensional structures or processes? Do you wonder how to engage students in building their spatial reasoning skills? Although no one spatial reasoning skill is predictive of overall success in the geosciences, particular skills may relate to individual tasks in the geosciences. Instructors can promote student understanding of complex spatial structures and processes using a variety of research-based techniques.

This workshop will provide an overview of the types of spatial thinking that are important in the geosciences and activities that are useful for building students' skills. Through a series of breakout groups, participants will share their perspectives on topics that present spatial reasoning challenges for students in their geoscience discipline. The workshop facilitators will provide a structure for instructors to use while developing 3-5 questions that will probe students' spatial reasoning about geoscience phenomena. These diagram-based questions can be used to diagnose conceptual hurdles that would benefit from additional interventions (e.g., the use of models, sketching, etc.). The facilitators will provide feedback and support through the design process and participants will leave the workshop with diagram-based questions that, once implemented in their classes, can be submitted to the Teach the Earth collection of activities on spatial reasoning.

Workshop Program » Participant Workspace »

Target Audience

This workshop is designed for any instructor for a geoscience course (K-12, undergraduate introductory or upper-level) who would like to learn more about how to engage students in spatial reasoning. We are specifically interested in engaging instructors who are teaching about earth's surface processes, hydrologic systems, and atmospheric processes.


Participations in this workshop will:

  • Discuss best practices for engaging students in spatial reasoning
  • Identify challenging spatial concepts associated with their course
  • Design click-on-diagram questions to engage students in spatial reasoning
  • Collaborate with colleagues to obtain feedback on the new activities


Each day of this workshop will include brief presentations of findings from research on how to engage students in spatial reasoning with visualizations, breakout groups to discuss challenges within one's own geoscience context, and collaboration to develop approaches to productively improving students' spatial reasoning. Participants will learn how to develop questions to engage and assess students' spatial reasoning in geoscience classes as a starting point to developing more in-depth activities. If implemented in their own classroom, the click-on-diagram questions may be added to a Teach the Earth content collection for community use.

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