Mentally Manipulating Objects Leads to the Later Manipulation of Numbers

An example of a spatial reasoning test. Obviously, the ones the researchers gave to the six-year-olds were much easier.

My freshman year of college, I was given a spatial reasoning test at the start of my honors engineering program. The reasoning was that if some of us were just terrible at manipulating objects in our heads, we’d have a pretty rough time with a lot of the drafting and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software projects and tests.

Not that they’d kick us out of engineering if we scored poorly, but they wanted to be aware of anyone facing those additional challenges.

Naturally, scoring well on those tests meant that you’d probably perform a bit better on the future assignments relying on those skills. But where else might spatial skills come in handy? After all, the brain is one giant jumble of interconnected wires. At the University of Chicago, Susan Levine and Elizabeth Gunderson had the idea that early skills in spatial reasoning might help kids develop their math skills.

It seems that they might be right.

The pair of researchers gave young six year olds a spatial reasoning test that required them to predict the future shape that would be created when two others were rotated together or pushed together. A couple of years later, they asked them to pick out on a number line where several numbers between 0 and 100 should be placed. Finally, they gave them an approximate mathematics skill test that required them to add two numbers together and say whether or not the resulting total was more or less than another number.

For example, they’d see images depicting someone getting 30 cookies and then getting 15 more cookies. Then, they’d be shown someone else having 55 cookies and would be asked who had more.

The results strongly correlated early high spatial reasoning skills with later prowess at the numbers game.

That’s all well and good, but I don’t understand why they didn’t just give the kids a math test. I mean, they were second graders. I’m pretty sure I learned addition and subtraction in first grade, and multiplication in second. Why not just see if the spatial skills resulted in solid addition and subtraction skills?

Whatever their reasons, it seems like another study suggesting letting your children play with puzzles will help them develop better smarts later in life.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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One Response to Mentally Manipulating Objects Leads to the Later Manipulation of Numbers

  1. Melanie says:

    Maybe they gave them the “numbers game” assessment and not just a math test so that they either couldn’t work the problems on the paper (and therefore, not in their head) or to eliminate the stigma of a “test” that might make some kids perform poorly. I dunno. And yes, I’ll continue to suck up “puzzle time” around here. Although I told Dad that when Micah wants to tackle some multi-thousand piece monster, he has to go to Papaw’s house for that crap.

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