Creating Geospatial Thinkers

Creating Geospatial Thinkers

Larianne Collins (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0249-5.ch006

Abstract

In today's contemporary digital world, where geospatial technologies are an integral part of society, it is imperative that students learn to think spatially. The ability to think spatially is crucial for making well-informed decisions, and these skills are rapidly becoming exponentially more important. This chapter will explore the complexity of spatial thinking, and multiple spatial thinking skills will be identified. Methods best suited for delivering content that fosters the improvement of these spatial thinking skills will also be discussed. The chapter concludes with an exploration of some of the necessary elements required for the sustained use of geospatial technologies in the classroom and offers recommendations for transformation in teacher practice such as pre-service intervention, continuous follow-up and coaching, and curriculum modifications, which include the direct instruction of both spatial thinking and geospatial technologies.
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Literature Review

A universal mode of cognitive processing used in everyday life, spatial thinking is a distinctive form of thinking centered around the concept of space. The body of knowledge around when and how spatial thinking develops is growing. This form of thinking reached a level of prominence with the publication from the National Research Committee (NRC) report, Learning to Think Spatially (2006). The NRC defines spatial thinking as the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to use concepts of space (such as distance, orientation, distribution, and association), tools of representation (such as maps, graphs, and diagrams), and processes of reasoning (such as cognitive strategies to facilitate problem solving and decision making) to structure problems, find answers, and express solutions to these problems (2006). Put simply, spatial thinking is the ability to visualize space and solve problems spatially.

Challenging traditional beliefs about intelligence in the fields of both education and cognitive science at the time, Gardner (1983) developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences by identifying eight distinctive intelligences or ways of thinking that provide insight on how students process and learn information. He originally identified spatial intelligence as one of these intelligences in which he defined as an object-based intelligence comprising the ability to visualize, rotate, transform and manipulate objects and their location in the world (1983). Typically, spatial intelligence is closely tied to the visual modality, however, Gardner explains that in much the same manner that the linguistic intelligence is not completely dependent on the auditory modality, spatial intelligence can be developed in both visually-impaired and sighted individuals (1983).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Native: People who were born in the digital world and thus are “native” to the digital languages of computers, video games, and the internet.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence: An object-based intelligence comprising the ability to visualize, rotate, transform, and manipulate objects and their location in the world.

Spatial Thinking: The knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to use concepts of space (such as distance, orientation, distribution, and association), tools of representation (such as maps, graphs, and diagrams), and processes of reasoning (such as cognitive strategies to facilitate problem solving and decision making) to structure problems, find answers, and express solutions to these problems.

Geospatial Data: Data that have a geographic component to them tied to them such as geographic coordinates, address, city, or zip code.

Geospatial Technologies: A specialized subset of information technologies that handle geo-referenced data such as global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), and remote sensing.

Geospatial Thinking: Application of spatial thinking to address complex geographic concepts or problems.

Digital Immigrant: People who were not born into the digital world, but at some point later in life have adopted many aspects of new technologies.

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