Models, and maps, and spatial understanding

Teaching spatial awareness is part of most early childhood standards, such as the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework (Understands directionality, order, and position of objects, such as up, down, in front, behind.), and it is part of national standards for K-12 curriculum such as the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas . Joining in a traditional fingerplay teachs positional vocabulary:
Up and down, round and round (draw circles in the air),
Put your fingers on the ground.
Over (hold hands above lap) under, (below legs) in between (hide in between your legs)
Now my fingers can’t be seen!
 Hands in front, hands behind , now my hands I cannot find.
Here’s my left hand , here’s my right,
Hands and fingers back in sight! (wriggle fingers).
How else can preK-grade 2 teachers prepare their students to understand their position in their room, their building, their community, their world, their “place in space”? There are many resources on teaching using representations—models and maps—available through the National Science Teachers Association elementary school journal, Science and Children. Cover of Science and Children, September 2011.The September 2011 issue has many “free” articles for teachers who want resources for teaching science but are not yet members. People who are members can send the link to colleagues to alert them to interesting articles such as the “Guest Editorial: Minds, Models, and Maps” by Kenneth Wesson who says, “The dynamic back-and-forth process of shifting images from the mind’s eye to paper and to tangible models is when children make their most creative and memorable connections.” He offers easy-to-implement strategies for incorporating illustrations, models, and maps. Another free article by NSTA 2001–2002 President and science education consultant Harold Pratt, describes the National Research Council’s new Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas in “Introducing A Framework for K–12 Science Education.”  Children make a really BIG model of a spider.
Children feel empowered and can see details when they make a really big model of a spider and her web. Join Marie Faust Evitt and her class as they hunt for spiders and make BIG connections in “A Web of Learning: Beyond “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” preschool students learn science content naturally”. And in The Early Years column I write about helping children build mental and visual maps of their area by taking walking fieldtrips and documenting their observations on a simple map. Even if your walking fieldtrip is just around the school building, children can look for traffic signs, interesting plants, and signs of animal life. This year the other teachers and I will take walking fieldtrips with the 3-year-olds too!

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6 Responses to Models, and maps, and spatial understanding

  1. bill ebener says:

    Interesting, abstraction a challenge for college kids also. Please check links – they do not connect to resources mentioned. Thanks.

  2. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Bill, thanks for alerting me to the problems with the links. I think they will work properly now.

  3. Eric Cromwell says:

    Thank you for discussing the importance of spatial literacy. There is ever increasing evidence that building spatial literacy leads students to STEM related fields. I can only hope that the new standards will emphasize this.

  4. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    You’re welcome Eric. See my March 24, 2011 post for more on spatial literacy. Please let us all know about any additional resources!

  5. Marie Faust Evitt says:

    Thanks for mentioning my article, “A Web of Learning.” I’ve found that building models such as a giant web and spider offers many opportunities for using spatial vocabulary: attaching tape to the center of the web, poking pipe cleaner legs through the bag.
    I wasn’t familiar with the finger play you mentioned. I’m going to try it this week. Doing the Hokey Pokey is another fun way to explore spatial concepts with young children. I stamp the children’s right hands so they know which one is their right, making it much easier for them to do the dance.

    • Peggy Ashbrook says:

      Good idea to stamp just the right hand, Marie.
      When we’re in a circle I notice that the children across from me are putting out their left hand when I say, “Here’s my right” because they are copying my motions, mirror image, rather than thinking about which of their hands is their left or right.
      Getting into, and walking in, a line from room to playground may seem like a simple task but it requires spatial awareness and practice. This was made obvious this first month of school when comparing two classes: a 3s classes which is composed of children who had been in the 2s class last year, and another 3s class composed of children new to school. The former lines up (almost) effortlessly and the newbies stand in a group in front of the teacher. While I wouldn’t send my child to school just to learn how to walk in a line, I do appreciate the adults in the grocery store who park their carts to one side of an aisle rather than blocking the middle.

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