sign of one such instructional system, GIS, falls under the aegis of the fourth audience—the developers of GIS software.

Some of the recommendations in Chapter 10 are aimed specifically at particular audiences (e.g., members of the educational establishment or GIS software developers). Other recommendations require the collaboration of members of all four audiences. The committee believes that the set of recommendations provides the basis for actions to ensure that the next generation of American students is spatially literate.

Spatial thinking can be learned; it should be taught at all levels in the education system. With advances in the tools and technologies of computation (hardware and software), spatial thinking can be supported in ways that enhance the speed, accuracy, capacity (to manage large amounts of data), and flexibility of its operation and open up the process to increasing numbers of people, working collaboratively and at higher levels of performance. Because of newly available computational technologies, support for spatial thinking is more readily possible today, but concomitantly, more challenging cognitive skills are necessary to take advantage of rapidly changing support systems. Given the rapid change in supporting tools and technologies, therefore, spatially literate students must be lifelong learners.


In Part I, “The Nature and Function of Spatial Thinking” (Chapters 2 through 6), the committee focuses on the first pair of questions of the charge about spatial thinking and its support: its definition, character, and operations (Chapter 2); its roles in everyday life, work, and science (Chapter 3); its incorporation into instruction in the K–12 curriculum (Chapter 4); and its central role in workforce needs, and its implicit, unacknowledged role in standards-based K–12 education (Chapter 5). The nature and characteristics of a support system for spatial thinking are defined in the K–12 context (Chapter 6).

The committee sees spatial thinking as a basic and essential skill that can be learned, that can be taught formally to all students, and that can be supported by appropriately designed tools and technologies. With appropriate instruction and support, spatial thinking can become a lifelong habit of mind. The committee presents a set of educational guidelines for developing instructional systems and curricula that can foster spatial literacy in American students. Therefore, Part I generates one recommendation.

On the basis of this understanding, Part II, “Support for Spatial Thinking” (Chapters 7 through 9), focuses on questions three and four of the charge. The committee reviews a range of high-tech systems for supporting spatial thinking (Chapter 7), evaluates the design and implementation of GIS as a system for supporting spatial thinking in the K–12 context (Chapter 8), and assesses the current status and potential of GIS as a support system in the K–12 context (Chapter 9).

The committee believes that although GIS can make a significant impact on teaching and learning about spatial thinking, it must be situated in a context wherein there is a systematic, standards-based approach to teaching spatial thinking, along with a suite of supporting tools available to do so. Taken alone, GIS is not the answer to the problem of teaching spatial thinking in American schools; however, it can play a significant role in an answer. Therefore, Part II generates five recommendations.

In Part III, “Supporting Spatial Thinking in the Future” (Chapters 10 and 11), the committee addresses the role of spatial thinking in general, and in K–12 education in particular, and illustrates the role of GIS in supporting spatial thinking. Chapter 10 presents the committee’s conclusions and a set of six recommendations, and Chapter 11 describes students who are spatially literate and who are using GIS to solve interesting and important problems.

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