1. keeping track of the flow of work;

  2. modeling ways of performing operations and analyses;

  3. finding an exact or correct answer to a problem or presenting a range of alternate problem-solving scenarios (as in a decision support system for community planning); and

  4. providing ways of representing data and results to oneself and to others.

  1. Be useful in solving problems in a wide range of real-world contexts

  2. Facilitate learning transfer across a range of school subjects

  3. Provide a rich, generative, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment for the users of the support system

Being Appropriate to Student Needs

  1. Be developmentally and educationally appropriate, tailored for use by novice learners, not expert users, and graded to support increasing levels of skill and experience

  2. Be accessible to and supportive of the full range of learners (i.e., including those who are differently abled)

  3. Be customizable to meet the needs of specific groups of learners working on particular tasks in specific contexts

Matching the Educational Context

  1. Be flexible enough to be effective in a variety of school contexts (e.g., infused versus subject-based curricula; elementary versus high school) and to enable a range of modes of use (e.g., individual and stand-alone; collaborative and networked, locally and globally)

  2. Be quick and intuitive for students and teachers to learn to use

  3. Be robust and realistic in terms of the expectations placed on teachers and the demands on school infrastructure (in terms of hardware and software)

These 10 criteria are desiderata rather than immediately attainable goals. No support system can be expected to meet all of the criteria simultaneously and to the maximum extent. Indeed, systems can be successful without necessarily fulfilling all 10 criteria. In some contexts, criteria may pose contradictory demands. Thus, something that satisfies criterion 6 (ease of learning) may indeed meet criterion 8 (utility across a range of contexts) but do so only because it meets criterion 1 (support inquiry) and criterion 4 (a rich environment) in relatively superficial and shallow ways. Nevertheless, these 10 criteria provide working guidelines for the design and implementation of a support system.


The committee advocates the design, development, testing, and implementation of systems—low tech and high tech—for the support of spatial thinking. These systems can facilitate the inquiry approach (hypothesis generating and testing) to problem solving in real-world contexts. They can be fine-tuned to accommodate the needs of different disciplinary traditions and problem-solving contexts, and they can be structured to reflect individual performance differences as a function of age and ability (the concepts of developmental and educational appropriateness).

Support systems for spatial thinking are necessary for two reasons:

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