posted by Sasha Fajerstein
As teachers, we constantly remind students about the importance of mathematics if you want to be an engineer, chemist, architect, archaeologist, astronaut, astrologist, biologist, and many more. What people don’t realize is that spatial skills are key in transforming mathematics into three-dimensional objects with limitless uses. Spatial reasoning is essentially the ability to think about, visualize, and mentally organize objects in 3 dimensions.
Here is an example of a standard spatial reasoning test question:
Which of the following cubes represents the unfolded picture on the left?
Question and photo from http://dudye.com/challenge-your-creativity-77-problem-solving-exercises
The correct answer to the above question is the cube shown in choice C. These visualization exercises involve the same thought processes that allow surgeons to visualize the next steps in surgery, architects to convert floor plans into real life buildings, engineers to use formulas and programs to form electrical circuits, and so on.
Most people think spatial reasoning is specific to geometry class, but spatial reasoning is involved in all mathematics and science classes. I teach high school students, but spatial reasoning skills can be built and expanded from a very early age. We all use our spatial intelligence on a daily basis. When you look at a map to figure out relative location, rearrange your living room, try to figure out if your stroller will fit down the aisle in the grocery store, or decide whether or not that last pan will fit in the dishwasher; you are using your spatial intelligence skill set. Even something as simple as involving your children in these types of questions, decisions, and activities can help strengthen spatial reasoning skills.
Playing with toys and games that allow imaginative building can help improve spatial skills. Some things that probably come to mind immediately are toys like Legos and building blocks, but there are many more options for individual play or group play and board games available. A great list of construction toys is available here: http://astore.amazon.com/parenscien-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=35
There are also countless puzzles and games that involve spatial reasoning skills. A list of board games that involve spatial reasoning is here: http://astore.amazon.com/parenscien-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=35
(Blokus is one of my all-time favorite games! I think playing this game has made me much better at visualizing when teaching geometry.)
If the test question above was interesting for you to think about, there are a number of spatial reasoning challenges and tests you can find online. I did a quick Google search for online spatial reasoning tests and I found one similar to the question above at https://www.123test.com/spatial-reasoning-test/
(This is not a test you’d give young children, but I found it to be a fun mental challenge).
One of the best things about working with construction toys or board games that involve spatial reasoning skills is that they truly are games that allow children to come up with their own plans, outlines, or strategies without one correct answer. This is always the goal of inquiry based mathematics, so introducing games and play objects that allow for this type of thinking early on will go a long way in students’ future success in mathematics.