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The role of spatial cognition in children’s science learning

Hodgkiss, Alex; (2019) The role of spatial cognition in children’s science learning. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Spatial cognition incorporates the human capacity to use both spatial thinking skills (e.g., mental rotation of objects) and symbolic spatial tools (e.g., gesture, diagrams). Prior research with adults indicates that spatial thinking skills predict science learning outcomes. However, research in the primary school years is sparse and includes a restricted range of spatial thinking and science measures. The main aim of this thesis was to comprehensively investigate the relationship between spatial thinking skills and science learning in middle childhood (7-11 years). Children completed a selection of spatial thinking tasks and science assessments, across varying contexts. Spatial thinking skills predicted performance on a curriculum-based science assessment (Chapter 3). Mental folding and spatial scaling were the strongest predictors, with mental folding a stronger predictor than spatial scaling. Spatial thinking skills also predicted the learning outcomes of whole-class instruction on sound (Chapter 4). Mental folding again emerged as the strongest spatial predictor. The relationship was evident for tasks involving the application of conceptual understanding, rather than factual recall. An additional aim was to investigate gesture as a spatial tool in supporting children’s science learning. No strong evidence emerged that gesture was a more effective spatial learning tool than teaching via the use of concrete models, or by using verbal descriptions and diagrams (Chapter 5). Consistent with Chapter 3 and 4, mental folding also predicted learning. However, for problems closely related to the lesson content, this relationship was stronger in the conditions where children had no experience with concrete models. This may reflect the use of mental models to scaffold learning. Despite evidence for certain spatial skills being stronger predictors of science learning, psychometric analyses best supported a one-factor model of spatial thinking. Nevertheless, the findings of the thesis suggest that targeting mental folding skills within spatial training interventions may yield the greatest benefits.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The role of spatial cognition in children’s science learning
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2019. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10082504
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