quickly as possible. On the other hand, in the longer run, students also need to learn how to learn new supporting tools as they emerge. Each tool is costly to learn in terms of time. New tools become available and old tools are revised or discarded (e.g., the slide rule). Focused tools—such as CAD—are very powerful, but they do not necessarily offer opportunities across disciplines and therefore across the curriculum.

If these educational challenges are met, we can also meet the goal of fostering a new generation of spatially literate students. To do so, we need to invest in a systematic educational program to enhance levels of spatial thinking in all K–12 students.

1.4.2 Three Characteristics of a Spatially Literate Student

Spatially literate students who have developed appropriate levels of spatial knowledge and skills in spatial ways of thinking and acting, together with sets of spatial capabilities,

  • have the habit of mind of thinking spatially—they know where, when, how, and why to think spatially;

  • practice spatial thinking in an informed way—they have a broad and deep knowledge of spatial concepts and spatial representations, a command over spatial reasoning using a variety of spatial ways of thinking and acting, have well-developed spatial capabilities for using supporting tools and technologies; and

  • adopt a critical stance to spatial thinking—they can evaluate the quality of spatial data based on their source, likely accuracy, and reliability; they can use spatial data to construct, articulate, and defend a line of reasoning or point of view in solving problems and answering questions; and they can evaluate the validity of arguments based on spatial information.

The committee believes that students can derive pleasure from thinking spatially. The children in Jerome Bruner’s first group of active, engaged, and excited spatial thinkers should represent the rule, not the exception.


Fostering a new generation of spatial thinkers requires systemic educational reform. Such reform cannot be achieved without the long-term participation, cooperation, and commitment of many individuals. Therefore, this report is aimed at four groups of people, often overlapping in composition, who are central to educational reform.

Its first audience is the educational establishment—those federal, state, and local officials who are charged with establishing educational policy and practice. These officials establish content and performance standards for what students should know and be able to do; they adopt assessment programs to measure levels of student performance; they establish criteria for teacher preparation and certification; they provide the supplies and equipment necessary for instruction; and they provide instructional programs for pre- and in-service teachers. The educational establishment can mandate or encourage systemic change. However, the successful implementation of change is possible only with the active participation and cooperation of the second audience—members of the educational infrastructure. This audience ranges from the leadership of teachers’ unions to pre-service trainers to curriculum developers, textbook writers, educational publishers, courseware developers, and test and assessment developers. The precise direction of change and reform will depend on members of the third audience—researchers in education and psychology. As argued earlier, without a clear understanding of the nature and character of spatial thinking it is impossible to design instructional systems and technologies to support spatial thinking. The de-

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