Spatial Thinking Training Activities for Undergraduate Geology Students

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm CC Building Circadian
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


Stephanie Sabatini, North Carolina State University
David McConnell, North Carolina State University


Card sort activities, tactile structure contour map model and 3-D card model exercises, plus more!


We have created a set of spatial thinking training activities as part of a newly developed 1-credit course (Visualizing Geology in 3D and 4D) for sophomore geology students. The course is structured around the spatial thinking typology developed by Newcombe and Shipley (2015), wherein each 110-minute lab period provides targeted spatial thinking instruction and exercises focused on specific skills and strategies. The course begins with exercises in which students grapple with the scale of geologic objects and processes, then migrates to pattern recognition, spatial transformations, and spatial relationships between geologic objects. Through our set of spatial thinking training activities and targeted instruction, we aim to equip undergraduate geology students with the spatial thinking skills necessary for success in the geology curriculum. Our presentation will showcase several activities, including sorting exercises, a tactile structure contour map exercise, and exercises using simple 3-D card models. We will demonstrate how they can be easily integrated into existing geology courses to enhance student learning outcomes. The sorting exercises challenge students to think about the relative scale of geologic objects, events, and processes; while the structure contour and 3-D card model exercises helps students develop the ability to translate between two-dimensional maps and three-dimensional landscapes.


These activities are used as part of a newly developed course for undergraduate geology students but could easily be incorporated into other undergraduate geology courses. The target audience is undergraduate geology students who are interested in developing their spatial thinking abilities to better understand geologic processes and phenomena.

Why It Works

Research has shown that strong spatial thinking skills are essential for success in STEM fields (Wai et al., 2009; Shea et al., 2001), as they enable individuals to better understand and visualize complex concepts and processes, identify patterns and relationships, and manipulate and transform spatial information. The spatial thinking exercises we will present on are simple and can be easily integrated into undergraduate geoscience courses.