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The importance of spatial thinking for geoscience education: Insights from the crossroads of geoscience and cognitive science

Lynn S. Liben
Lynn S. Liben
Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
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Sarah J. Titus
Sarah J. Titus
Department of Geology, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota 55057, USA
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April 2012

Many students enrolled in geoscience courses have poorly developed spatial skills that may impede their success in mastering geoscience methods and concepts. To illustrate the variety of spatial skills required in the geosciences, we analyze a hypothetical field day of a structural geologist from the perspective of spatial cognition. We discuss some of the cognitive processes required for selective geoscience tasks, including map reading, navigation, perception of orientation, measurement of strike and dip, and interpretation of spatial diagrams including cross sections and stereographic projections. We suggest teaching strategies for several spatially demanding geologic tasks. We also outline ideas for future interdisciplinary research that may contribute to the development and evaluation of curricula designed to improve students' mastery of geoscience and spatial thinking, and, simultaneously, contribute to the field of cognitive science.

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GSA Special Papers

Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences

Edited by
Kim A. Kastens
Kim A. Kastens
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, Palisades, New York, USA
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Cathryn A. Manduca
Cathryn A. Manduca
Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA
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Geological Society of America
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