Spatial visualisation tied to STEM success

Monday, 13 July, 2020

Spatial visualisation tied to STEM success

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) say the ability to visualise 3D shapes is linked to better grades and higher graduation rates in STEM college students.

A mobile app (Spatial Vis) to test skills in college students was developed based on research at UCSD, but researchers Lelli Van Den Einde and Nathan Delson — teaching professors at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering — believed spatial visualisation skills could be taught at a younger age. The issue till now was a lack of assessment capability, so they’ve developed a test that determines skill levels based on a child’s ability to assemble Lego pieces. 

At the college level, a widely used assessment is the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations, or PSVT:R, which is a 20-minute timed test consisting of a series of multiple-choice questions that are geared towards students 13 and older. Van Den Einde and Delson wanted to develop an assessment that would be more suitable and engaging for students at lower grade levels, so turned to a familiar form for many young children. 

To pass the test, students have to assemble a set of Lego pieces into a specific shape, such as a whale or a small plane, while only being given a picture of the final shape but no step-by-step instructions. The time it takes students to build the correct solution is the metric used for assessment. 

To validate, the researchers had college students take both the PSVT:R and Lego assembly tests at quarterly intervals and results indicated a statistically significant correlation between outcomes. 

The Spatial Vis app is used by over 120 schools and 2000 students and the two teaching professors are now working on a version for lower grade levels to meet the demand which has increased due to remote instruction.

The app includes automatic grading of student sketches and hints when students are stuck. The researchers will be modifying their hint feedback so that the app is more suitable for K–12 students and encourages students to be persistent and solve assignments with only minimal hints.

Image credit: ©

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