• Where am I? Developing Spatial Thinking Skills

      Lukinbeal, Chris; Glueck, Mary (The University of Arizona., 2020-05)
      Middle school students are inundated with a plethora of geographic and GIS instructional resources; however, these students often lack the spatial thinking skills necessary to orient themselves in space and make meaningful geographic connections to the world. The question, “Where am I?”, is challenging without an understanding of spatial orientation, distance, and connections. Developing geographic literacy, even geographic media literacy, being able to locate and connect themselves in the world, is critical to their greater understandings. With this Master’s Project, I document a learner-centered exercise that develops spatial thinking skills. Spatial thinking combines spatial concepts, visualization, and reasoning. Spatial thinking reaches beyond answering “where” with a simple “here” to consider personal awareness of spatial orientation along with spatial connections, and pattern recognition at different spatial scales for problem-solving, decision-making, or policy purposes. Middle school, a time of growth in student understandings from concrete to abstract, is an optimal stage to advance and implement spatial thinking skills. Furthermore, curriculum standards focus on crosscutting concepts of patterns, change, and scale, providing ample opportunity for increasing spatial understandings. This research project involved a sixty-five student cohort that was guided through a geographic inquiry process to build spatial thinking skills and conceptual understandings by orienting themselves in the classroom, applying historical survey methods to create a grid map of the school courtyard, and extending this to GIS-based virtual transects of student-selected connections. Outcomes indicate considerable growth in student spatial thinking skills and understandings. Their knowledge will be applied to future Earth Science investigations ensuring strong engagement and greater spatial understandings. Keywords: Geographic education, reasoning, spatial connections, spatial orientation, visualization