Visual Spatial Abilities or Visual Literacy
Visual and spatial thinking pervades all human everyday tasks like finding ones way through a shopping mall and back to your parked car, arranging items in drawers or on shelves, rearranging furniture, reading, and during all construction. Visual and spatial relationships include two and three-dimensional drawings and models representing objects, events, and ideas. Objects and ideas such as molecular structures, DNA, cells, magnetic fields, circulation of blood, operation of body systems, solar systems, galaxies, interactions, maps, circuits, and virtually any system and how its subsystems interact, geometry, mathematical properties of number, number patterns, mathematical operations, functions, graphing, representations of any mathematical idea, and as a tool for problem solving.
A spatial/visual representation is not created as if the mind is a video recorder storing images for future reference where perceptual snapshots can be referenced mentally in the manner one looks at old pictures in a picture album or video on a monitor. It is the building of mental representations from active manipulation of the environment in relationship to a current best fit mental representations.
Visual literacy is the ability to decode visual actions, objects, symbols, and other images and gain meaning from them and to encode thoughts and ideas and express them with visual representations.
Visual learning is the process used to become visually literate.
Geometry is the study of spatial objects, relationships, and transformations that have been formalized and the axiomatic mathematical systems that have been constructed to represent them.
Spatial reasoning is the set of cognitive processes by which mental representations for spatial objects, relationships, and transformations are constructed and manipulated.
Visualization includes written text, images, symbols, scale diagrams, cutaway diagrams, cross-sections, flow charts, organizational charts, cycle charts, webs, hierarchical diagrams, dichotomous charts, network charts, bar graphs, circle graphs, line graphs, three-dimensional graphs, time lines, birds eye view maps, context maps, altitude maps, tables, graphic designs.
Careers That Require a High Degree of Visual Literacy or Visual / Spatial Abilities and Skills
- aerodynamics airline and airport management
- art and design
- auto mechanics
- city planning
- communication arts
- computer science
- driver training
- earth science
- environmental planning
- fish and wildlife management
- glass technology
- graphic arts
- health services
- horticulture hydrology
- industrial arts
- industrial design
- industrial hygiene
- industrial technology
- landscape design
- medical technology
- pharmacy and pharmacology
- physical education
- quality control
- therapy (occupational and physical)
- traffic and transportation
- x-ray technology
Visual Spatial Reasearch
- Peggy Blackwell summarizes gender differences as follows: Women, as a consequence of socialization or genetics or both, have difficulty perceiving relationships in and among three-dimensional objects. For example, some women find it difficult to drive a car in reverse, or to determine how a mechanical object works simply by looking at it. Many women do not automatically learn, at home or at school, the total concept of space, which includes direction, distance, perspective, movement, and relationships of objects to each other in space. Women have consistently shown a sex differentiated lack of what is called spatial visualization and spatial orientation.
- Barbara Moses found that the ability to think visually is not innate and can be improved. She found a strong positive relationship between problem-solving and visual/spatial thinking skills. She also found the greatest improvement among female students who had few previous direct experiences with visual thinking.
- Smith and Schroeder found that fourth graders who received training in visual thinking outperformed those who did not and there was no difference between the sexes in how training affected their abilities to perform visual/spatial tasks.
- Herbert Cohen used SCIIS materials with fifth grade students and found both males and females significantly improved in logical and visual thinking abilities.
- Smith and Litman compared training of fourth graders with training of adolescents and concluded that both can benefit from instruction at the fourth grade level; but if instruction is postponed to early adolescence, only boys benefit.
- Pallarand and Seeber found that community college students significantly increased their visual thinking abilities after instruction that was based in large part on the SCIS fourth grade unit "Relative Position and Motion".
- Lord found that regular experiences with spatial tasks significantly improved visual and spatial thinking of college biology students.
- Siegel and Schadler, found that that boys were more accurate in constructing scale models of their classroom than girls. Herman and Siegel found that boys outperformed girls in a task of reconstructing a model of a large scale model town that they had explored.
These differences might be explained by the differences in toys that boys and girls play with, differences in parental responses to girls and boys manipulation of toys, differences in amount of space boys and girls are allowed to explore and play, amount of time spent outdoors, and distances allowed to roam from home.
Research supports three ideas:
- Boys tend to outperform girls on visual/spatial tasks;
- Visual/spatial abilities can be improved through instruction; and
- Both sexes benefit from planned visual and spatial exercises, but girls profit most if a narrowing of a gender gap in visual/spatial thinking is achieved.
School more than any other institution is responsible for the down grading of visual thinking. Most educators are not only disinterested in visual thinking, they are hostile toward it and regard it as childish, primitive, and prelogical. They emphasize information stored in proper categories with little thought to connecting it with the real world.
- Ability to form mental images of observed objects.
- Ability to observe fine details of objects
- Making connections between real objects and drawings, photographs, or media images that represent the object.
- Storage and retrieval of mental images representing previously observed objects.
- Communicating descriptions of previously perceived objects through drawing.
- Visualizing objects based on verbal descriptions.
Logical Visual/Spatial Thinking
- Visualization of elements in a pattern.
- Figure completions.
- Identifying hidden shapes (embedded figures).
- Visualizing objects as observed from different points of view.
- Interpreting 2-D representations of 3-D objects.
- Visualizing sections of objects.
- Identifying and constructing surface patterns of 3-D objects.
- Visualizing rotations of 3-D objects.
- Visualizing motions of objects.
- Making inferences regarding shapes of objects based on shadows they cast.
- Visualizing a previously observed or predicted transformation of an object.
Creative Visual/Spatial Thinking
- Creating fantasy images.
- Visual intentions of devices, creatures, solutions to problems.
- Janusian imagery (holding two mental images in the mind at the same moment.
- Imaging alternate future events.
- Imaging alternate explanations for operation of physical system based on partial observation.
- Fluency, flexibility, and originality in production of divergent mental images related to a stimulus.
- Ability to tap subconscious states through relaxation, meditation, dreams, etc.
- Ability to create visual humor through cartoons, pantomime, and drawings.
- Ability to create visual metaphors.
- Willingness to risk experiences with fantasy.
Six Modes of Visual Learning (developed by the Polaroid Education Program)
- Exploring: the use of objects or pictures to identify and differentiate properties and their relationships to other properties. Similarities, differences, longer, shorter, tall, short, big, small, same, different, discriminate between letter and number shapes b, d, 2, 5.
- Recording: sketching, drawing, photographing, video-recording. Can develop the ability to sequence events in time, understand transformations, and improve memory through chaining of events. The ability to put together visual memories or actual recordings is directly tied to telling and interpretting stories in all forms.
- Expressing: acting, sketching, drawing, photographing, and video-recording to express feelings and emotions. The ability to identify emotions and to display different emotions in a variety of forms. Help interpret stories in all forms including forms beyond visual to include text, punctuation, sounds, and colors.
- Motivating: Celebrating student's accomplishments. Verbal encouragement, specific praise, and social recognition by students as well as teachers. Labeling students' creations and preserving them so that they are inviting to students over time and give legitament recognition to the creators.
- Communicating: interpret stories from different points of view and create their own stories by acting, sketching, drawing, photographing, and video-recording.
- Imagining and Creating: speculate and create alternative ideas and events to include in drama, sketches, drawings, photographs, and videos. Telling alternative endings to stories, interpreting what a story looks like and create the actions and images in a variety of mediums.
Instructional Activities to Develop Visual Spatial Abilities
- Draw everything (see Doing What Scientist Do. Ellen Doris, (199 ). Heinemann). Draw everyday objects, close-up, and far away. Draw cross sections of objects that have been cut, fruit, boxes, vegetables, gelatin molded in different shapes. Draw objects from feeling them through a sock or in a bag. Identify paths through mazes. Paths on maps, Paths created in Logo to create visual objects. Look for differences in drawings with discrepant details. Find Waldo, Wheres Waldo and other similar books. Observe visual illusions. Drawings from observing objects through a microscope, hand lens, telescope, or binoculars. Make drawings from another persons descriptions. Compare real objects with photographs or drawings of the objects. Create logs of objects as they change over time. Drawing a plant from day to day or season to season. Drawing interactions of other objects. Activities that involve figure rotations, reflections, projections, and pattern recognition. Use of pattern blocks, attribute games, Geoblocks, Unifix cubes, Cuisenaire rods and cubes. Shadow activities. Brainstorm with drawings.
- Concept Webs or Maps
- Concept webs can be lists of related ideas and how those ideas are related. Idea sketches of what students think another person is thinking (thinking process maps or mind maps), or what an author in a book means.
- Charts, Diagrams, Venn diagrams, Graphs, Maps
- Have students make charts and diagrams of information they collect.
- Draw maps or sketches from memory. Location of objects in space. Draw a map of the local store, draw a diagram of how your room is arranged, your closet. Draw an object from memory upside-down.
- Artistic Creations
- Have students represent a concept with an artistic creation. What would an artist create to express the concept of balance of nature, rain cycle, reptile, body system, rock crystals, pollution
- Visual Imaging
- Have students picture a voyage through a body system, through an object, a light beam traveling through space, a molecule as it is change physically or chemically, zooming from cosmic view to subatomic scale, traveling through geological time, erosion, arriving in a different environment.
- Creating an oddball invention. Inventors Workshop. Observe a picture or projection of one for a short period of time and draw or write what you observed. . How to prepare a food dish from memory. Recount the steps of an experiment or steps in the procedure of solving a problem. Paper folding. Students imagine they are performing an activity or imagine an activity being performed. Visualize throwing free throws in basketball. Visualize an object being transformed, motion through space, trajectories of objects, objects being transformed by flips, rotations, or morphed. Create fantasy creations. Create a model of an organism with unusual abilities. Create a flower model with the greatest adaptability or ability to reproduce.
- Models of objects such as ear, eye, steam engine Take apart an object and put it back together. Household objects, lamps, clocks, or other appliances.,
- Computer programs to make objects or solve spatial problems.
- Dramatization stories, the respiration process, water cycle, cell division, problem solving, mathematics concepts operations and concepts.
- Photography take pictures to tell a story.
- Video-recording video record images to tell a story. Create a drama, act it out, and video images to accompany it.
Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©