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Spatial awareness and math proficiency
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2014 10:32 AM

Many students and educators feel the Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than previous educational benchmarks, including those for math. In fact, the Common Core starts students off with geometry in kindergarten. They must use geometric ideas and vocabulary as they're introduced to addition and subtraction. While the geometry kindergartners tackle isn't a challenging set of formulas and theorems, they do learn about shapes. But why introduce a difficult topic to kids so young? Turns out, science backs up the Common Core's introduction of geometry in kindergarten. According to a study by the University of Michigan, training students in spatial awareness (a skill supported by geometry) helps them improve their understanding of math concepts.

Math and spatial awareness
Spatial awareness refers to a person's recognition of how he or she, or an object, interacts with a space. It's being able to fit items into an environment. You may be envisioning the toy that requires kids to put shapes in a box through a corresponding hole. That game tests spatial awareness. Geometry contains components similar to those in spatial awareness. The math form includes shapes, dimensions, area, etc., all of which involve the positioning? of said shapes in an environment. As such, geometry and spatial awareness are linked.

What's more, researchers discovered that by improving spatial awareness, students can become better at math as a whole. Researchers had 6- to 8-year-olds complete a training session that worked on mental rotation (the ability to mentally rotate 2-D and 3-D objects). Students were given images of two halves of one whole. The halves were placed at odd angles, and students had to figure out how the shapes would look when put together. After the short 20-minute training session, researchers had students take an addition and subtraction quiz. Students who were given mental rotation training performed better than students who were not. 

Researchers noted that this kind of spatial work gets the mind ready to tackle patterns and calculations, which is why it's so effective at improving math skills. 

A quick fix in the classroom
Such research has prompted some educators to include spatial training in their curricula. If teachers devote a bit of time before math to work on spatial awareness, students might perform better. As the study indicated, students don't have to spend a lot of time on priming exercises, though a course in spatial awareness could be beneficial.

"What's shocking is that we saw these improvements in math performance after giving the students just one 20-minute training session in spatial ability," Kelly Mix, the study's co-author and a professor of educational psychology, said in a statement. "Imagine if the training had been 6 weeks."