You can improve your spatial skills with training: study

October 9, 2018, University of Colorado at Boulder
A new CIRES-led study found that you, too, can improve your spatial reasoning with practice. Credit: Students by ©Jisc and Matt Lincoln; rocky anticline CC by Juan Antonio Cordero; others by CIRES

Do you marvel at your friend's ability to assemble complex IKEA furniture and navigate a new city, or do you all-around groan at your own lack of spatial skills? Don't fret! A new CIRES-led study found that you, too, can improve your spatial reasoning with practice.

Spatial reasoning skills are critical in many scientific disciplines, from archeology to environmental engineering. And the authors of the new study, published today in the International Journal of Science Education, hypothesize that providing formal spatial opportunities for undergraduate students could increase the pool of students who go on to succeed in geoscience careers.

"Spatial skills are so crucial in the geosciences," said Anne Gold, lead author of the study and director of the CIRES Education & Outreach program. "Reading a topographic map, deciphering how erosion sculpts landscapes, or recognizing how elements are arranged within a mineral all demand spatial visualization and reasoning."

For the new work, the team provided training exercises to 326 enrolled in Geology courses at CU Boulder in 2014 and 2015. Students completed short, weekly practice modules, both online and hands-on, that focused on specific, discrete .

The online training included exercises like mentally rotating geometric figures or imagining the shapes that result when a plane slices through different objects. The hands-on activities included building and drawing block figures and cutting through geometric shapes built from modelling clay. A group of 266 students served as the control group, receiving no training.

After one semester, 70 percent of the trained students increased their spatial skills, scoring better on a written assessment as compared to a pre-training assessment and when compared to the students who didn't participate in the trainings.

On a reflection survey, half of the trained students reported they felt their spatial thinking skills improved, and more than one-third found the training boosted their performance in other science classes.

The study builds upon the research team's earlier work showing young adults who played with construction-based toys such as Legos, or with certain types of spatially challenging video games, outperformed other peers in tests of .

"At any age, from childhood to college-age, and even well past that—it's possible to sculpt your spatial skills," Gold said. "It's never too late."

Including spatial training in schools could increase the pool of students who go on to choose and succeed in the geosciences, said Gold. And the students involved in the new assessment identified personal benefits, as well.

"The modules forced me to change my perspective on the object which I was observing, which is a valuable skill," said one of the participants in a reflection survey. "It challenged my brain to work in complex ways it otherwise wouldn't," said another.

Explore further: Spatial skills higher among those who played with construction-based toys and video games in childhood: study

More information: Anne U. Gold et al, Improving spatial thinking skills among undergraduate geology students through short online training exercises, International Journal of Science Education (2018). DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2018.1525621

Related Stories

Spatial training boosts math skills

June 25, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Training young children in spatial reasoning can improve their math performance, according to a groundbreaking study from Michigan State University education scholars.

How the mind processes complex spatial information

February 16, 2015

Northwestern University's David H. Uttal will discuss a program that has enhanced students' learning at a variety of levels, from basic spatial reasoning to solving complex problems involving the coordination of numerous ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Researchers engineer a tougher fiber

February 22, 2019

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal, resulting in a tougher material that could be incorporated into soft robotics, packaging ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.