Spatial Ability and Earth Science Conceptual Understanding

By Black, Alice A. | Journal of Geoscience Education, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Spatial Ability and Earth Science Conceptual Understanding


Black, Alice A., Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

Although spatial ability is related to success in the sciences, relatively little research has considered the relationship of spatial abilities with common misconceptions and broader conceptual difficulties in the Earth sciences. Spatial thinking and abilities have not commonly been directly addressed in traditional education. In this study, I found moderately significant positive correlations between scores on the ESC, a new test of Earth science conceptual understanding, and scores on each of three types, or factors, of spatial ability in university undergraduate non-science majors. Types of spatial ability tested included mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization. I found mental rotation to be the best predictor of ESC scores of the variables tested. Results suggest that an opportunity may exist to improve Earth science conceptual understanding by focusing on spatial abilities or the spatial aspects of concepts.

INTRODUCTION

Does the Earth's shadow cause moon phases? What happens to water that evaporates in the water cycle does it dissociate into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas? These explanations for common Earth science phenomena are often offered by university non-majors, as well as the general population. Students may also exhibit conceptual difficulties in interpretation of topographic maps, aerial photos, geologic cross sections, and various two-dimensional diagrams showing three-dimensional or moving phenomena. Many misconceptions and broader conceptual difficulties have been reported (Ford, 2003; Kusnick, 2002; Wampler, 1999,2001; Meyer, 1987; Philips, 1991; DeLaughter, 1998) in all four areas of the Earth sciences, although most are in the geosciences, astronomy, and meteorology. Although many conceptual problems are reported verbally as information-based misconceptions, such as the belief that seasons are caused by differences in Earth-sun distance at various times during the year (Schoon, 1992, 1995; Kikas, 1998), other conceptual difficulties are more broadly based. Examples are interpretation of geologic block diagrams (Piburn et al., 2002; Kali and Orion, 1996), aerial and satellite photos (Hawkins, 2000), and topographic maps (Repine and Rockey (1997), as well as understanding of map projections (Downs and Liben, 1991), and of geologic time (Dodick and Orion, 2002a, 2002b; Trend, 2000,2001). In addition, the principles of the kinetic-molecular theory (KMT), which are basic to an understanding of meteorology, are also a source of many Earth science misconceptions (Chang, 1999; Griffiths and Preston, 1992). Other researchers have studied issues of scale related to Earth science, including models and astronomical distances (Dyche et al., 1993), geologic distances (Gobert and Clement,1999; Gobert, 2000), sizes of scientific objects (Tretter and James, 2003), and time (Friedman, 2000, Dodick and Orion, 2003).

Why are misconceptions important? Constructionist learning philosophy (Chang et al., 1999; Riggs and Kimbrough, 2002; Slater et al., 1999; Carpenter et al., 1999) stresses that learners construct knowledge by assimilating new information with their personal previously held concepts. It is important, therefore, that students' previously held concepts are consistent with the ideas accepted by scientists, in order to establish a base on which to assimilate further concepts. The presence of erroneous previously-held concepts, or of broader conceptual difficulties, may impede understanding of Earth science concepts. Many Earth science misconceptions have been reported to be extremely difficult to change, even with thorough instruction and increasing age (Schneps and Sadler, 1989); this appears to be especially evident if the scientific explanation of Earth science phenomena is contradicted by intuitive knowledge derived from observations since early childhood.

Spatial ability has been defined as skill in "representing, transforming, generating, and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information" (Linn and Petersen, 1985, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Spatial Ability and Earth Science Conceptual Understanding
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.