Initial Publication Date: May 29, 2012

About this Project


The Spatial Thinking Workbook project is focused on improving spatial skills in upper-division undergraduate geoscience courses. Specifically, our goal is to improve students' penetrative thinking skills (ability to imagine what the interior of an object looks like), using an intellectual framework from cognitive science and innovative teaching in the geological sciences.


Our approach is to develop a set of teaching activities that use the strategies that cognitive science research has shown to be helpful in developing spatial thinking skills. These strategies include gesture, analogy, progressive alignment, and sketching.

All of the activities are developed collaboratively with geoscience faculty and cognitive science researchers, building on the results of prior research. They use both non-geological and geological examples. Our rationale is that non-geological exercises will be used to effectively distinguish the different aspects of penetrative thinking about which students have problems, and provide skill development that is indicated by cognitive science. The geological examples will be developed collaboratively with geoscience faculty and cognitive science researchers, but will focus on application of cognitive science research to geological examples. Exercises will build from simple to complex, and will scaffold students' penetrative thinking skills. The exercises are in the process of being tested in three different geoscience courses at three different institutions. Our premise is that spatial skills, much like math skills, once developed, can be used effectively in a variety of venues.

We will also develop a parallel set of supplemental online resources for instructors, including a summary of research on spatial reasoning and learning and recommended strategies for using the spatial workbook exercises in the geoscience classroom.

Project PIs

Project Team

Faculty Associates

Postdoctoral Fellows and Graduate Students

  • Kinnari Atit (Psychology, Temple University)
  • Kristin Gagnier (Psychology, Temple University)
  • Ilyse Resnick (Psychology, Temple University)


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, under grant award #1044245.

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