The parallels between Puluwatan voyagers and car drivers are striking: navigation is a function of knowledge structures and databases to which are applied rules and heuristics for selecting and following routes under a variety of environmental conditions. The differences are equally striking: in one case, most of the work is done “in the head” by a skilled navigator, whereas in the other a computer and a GPS unit do most of the work. The technological supports are minimal in one case and extensive in the other. But in both cases, it is the mind of the navigator or driver that determines the success of the operation. Navigators and drivers have learned how to navigate in a continuously changing and somewhat unpredictable environment. The Puluwatans have learned enormous amounts of highly specific information on land (from models and sketches drawn in the sand) and have practiced and mastered their skills at sea. Drivers have learned to operate the navigation system from the manual provided and then practiced and mastered their skills on the highway. It is the human power to think that is crucial: to the extent that the knowledge structures and display screens are functional (that is, user friendly and reliable), the in-vehicle navigation system (IVNS) works. In this way, support systems augment and leverage human problem solving.
Support systems play two principal roles, one practical and one conceptual. First, they enable us to do things more efficiently and more effectively in contexts ranging from everyday life to careers in all domains of knowledge: support systems are tools for thought and for lifelong learning. Second, they can change the process of education in fundamental ways for both students and teachers. In the case of spatial thinking, students can learn to understand and use the underlying thinking processes and they can learn to understand content areas whose concepts and data can be made more accessible through the application of spatial thinking. From a teacher’s perspective,