High-Tech Support Systems for Spatial Thinking


Spatial thinking underpins problem solving in everyday life, the workplace, and science. While much spatial thinking occurs unaided, there are numerous support systems for spatial thinking. In everyday life, for example, we can use MapQuest to find routes for driving; in the workplace, architects use CAD systems for designing structures; and in science, statisticians use the visualization powers of Data Explorer to understand complex relationships among variables.

Support systems range from low to high tech in character. Although we appreciate the value and indispensability of low-tech support systems for spatial thinking, we also recognize the significance of a rapidly developing suite of powerful high-tech tools for supporting spatial thinking. Given the links among changing twenty-first century workforce demands, the burgeoning IT industry, and the increasing use of IT in schools, the committee was charged to examine the incorporation of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking across the K–12 curriculum.

With respect to GIS, the committee was asked to examine two questions:

  1. How might current versions of GIS be incorporated into existing standards-based instruction in all knowledge domains across the school curriculum?

  2. How can cognitive developmental and educational theory be used to develop new versions of GIS that are age appropriate in their design and to implement new GIS curricula that are age appropriate in their scope and sequence?

The committee answers these questions in Chapters 8 and 9 by using the frameworks laid out in Chapter 6 for assessing support systems in the K–12 educational context: (1) the three requirements of a support system for spatial thinking; (2) the 10 criteria for the design of a support system for spatial thinking; and (3) the five components for the implementation of a support system for spatial thinking.

This chapter, however, sets GIS into the context of a range of systems for supporting spatial thinking. The chapter is divided into three sections: Section 7.2 sets GIS in the context of a suite of

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